Dr. Agrella warns of grim budget

Jerome Janairo, News Editor

Hard times are on the horizon for SRJC and students this semester as the college prepares to deal with additional cuts and massive revenue losses with the release of Governor Brown’s proposed state budget.

In a memo sent by SRJC president Dr. Robert Agrella to faculty and staff members, Agrella explained the possible outcomes for SRJC with the governor’s state budget. In it, he stated: “the picture for the community college system and, therefore SRJC, is grim.”

The state budget for the fiscal year of 2011 to 2012 details a plan to bridge a $25.4 billion budget gap by calling for $12.5 billion in spending cuts and $12 billion in revenue extensions. The revenue extensions will continue current state tax rates set to expire at the end of the 2010 fiscal year and require approval by the State Legislature in early March to be presented on the ballot for voters. A special election on the tax measures will be on June 7 and must have two-thirds majority vote by the electorate to pass.

According to the State Chancellor’s Office, California community colleges have three budgetary scenarios depending on the results of the June special elections, as described by Agrella’s memo. However, in all three scenarios the California community college system will deal with “net losses” of hundreds of millions of dollars.

“These are the decisions we are having to look at, and none of them are pleasant,” said Doug Roberts, SRJC Vice President of Business Services.

The “best case scenario” is based on the approval of revenue extensions at the June special elections. For the California community college system, this will result in a revenue reduction of $290 million.

If the revenue extensions fail to pass, “bad to worse” scenarios are to be expected, according to Agrella’s memo.

The “bad” scenario is that community colleges will be funded from the 40 percent of the state’s general fund – the minimum percentage allotted for education – as mandated by Proposition 98. This will result in a $490 million net loss.

In the event that the minimum percentage of funding for education is suspended, a $790 million revenue loss will follow for the community college system, according to the “worse” scenario.

According to Roberts, the uncertainty as to how the revenue extensions will turn out makes it difficult for the school administration to figure out how to deal with the revenue losses.

“Unlike other budgetary years where we can go ‘Well, they’ve come out with this and we’re going to see how things are.’ We know we’re going to lose money, it’s just a question of how much,” Roberts said.

The State Chancellor’s Office proposed cost reductions to be done through “workload reduction.” This means that the State’s funding for Full-Time Equivalent Students (FTES) will remain at the same rate, but that each individual school district will have to reduce the number of students the State funds. In other words, the state will not funding per student, but reduce the number of students funded.

For Roberts, this creates a dilemma. He says that the reduction of the number of full-time students the State is willing to fund could affect the college’s choices of which classes to cut.

“One of the things you have to look at is, do you really want to spend this money on courses to generate FTES for which the State won’t pay us?” he said.

Agrella’s memo outlines the SRJC projected FTES reductions and the costs of such reductions, which he again divided it into “best,” “bad” and “worse” scenarios.

In the “best case scenario,” the district reduces 1,138 FTES and will have a $4.9 million loss. The “bad” scenario consists of a 1,923 FTES reduction and an $8.3 million loss, and the “worse” scenario has 3,101 FTES reduces resulting in a loss of $13.3 million. In other words, SRJC could face 5 percent, 8 percent, or 13 percent cuts to the school budget.

According to Agrella, FTES reduction means that academics are once again facing additional cuts.

“It’s not a question of whether course sections will be reduced, but rather a question of which ones,” Agrella stated in his memo. He added that the college is planning for a 10 percent FTES reduction for the Fall 2011 semester.

SRJC “will be looking at every aspect of college operations to mitigate the revenue loss and unavoidable expense increases,” Agrella said.

Budget reductions would most likely come from faculty salaries, which make up 85 percent of the college’s budget. “There’s not a whole lot of money elsewhere left to take,” Roberts said.

The state’s Legislative Analyst Office made suggestions on how to reduce expenditures, such as limiting the total number of community college units a student can have, restricting the number of times a student can repeat a class and cutting “recreational items” like music classes. Another suggestion was raising the tuition rate of students who have more than 100 college credits to $175 per unit. Raising tuition fees from $26 per unit to $36 per unit was also suggested.

One reason for fee increases is that current tuition does not cover the actual cost of education per student. Most of the cost is by subsidized by state funds which come largely from local property and sales taxes. With the dismal housing market in California and decreased spending in the current economy, the funds generated by taxes are low. In keeping with Governor Brown’s plan to cut state spending, the college might have to reduce state subsidies to the cost of education.

Agrella’s memo stated that despite the cuts and reductions, he will “remain committed to the principle of not resorting to layoffs of regular college employees,” and that “It will take all of us, working together, to get the district through the next several years.”