Budget woes force hiring freeze

Claire Tillinghast, Staff Writer

As part of an attempt to balance the school budget, Santa Rosa Junior College President Dr. Robert Agrella announced that the school will fill fewer faculty positions than previously planned.

Originally the school planned to fill 21 full-time positions. However, in a Feb. 8 memo, Agrella announced that he reduced the number to 10.

“I do not believe it is prudent to proceed with the hiring faculty positions I previously released,” Agrella wrote.

The positions that will be filled include five counseling jobs, one in Petaluma, three in Santa Rosa and one with CalWORKS. Positions in culinary arts, emergency medical care, mathematics, pharmacy technician and sustainable agriculture will still be filled also.

“I think the reality is we are in for a tough time,” said Theater Arts Instructor Laura-Downing Lee. She went on to say that the school has to do what they can to provide an education for the students.

This year SRJC had 24 retirements, more than double the number of new hires. If SRJC continues to lose more teachers than it hires, the burden on current teachers will continue to grow.

“If you were eligible to retire, then you might just say I’m going to go now,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Mary Kay Rudolph. A teacher’s retirement pay is based on their highest earnings within the past 3 years and about 65 percent of the SRJC faculty will be eligible to retire this year. With the effects of the current budget crisis being unavoidable, the school is doing the best it can to disperse the cuts to have the least possible impact and affect the fewest people.

The reason for these cut backs goes back to the state budget. California is $25.4 billion in debt, and as Governor Jerry Brown struggles to balance the budget he will ask for substantial cuts from community colleges across the state. SRJC is one of many colleges affected.

SRJC plans the academic schedule six to eight months in advance. When Brown announced the state budget in January, school officials had already budgeted the current semester and had to make changes to accommodate the budgetary reality. Department chairs and deans are currently working on the fall 2011 schedule.

The school faces more cuts in the future. About 90 percent of the costs at the college are salary and benefits to employees. Building costs, maintenance, electricity, insurance and gas come from the remaining 10 percent.

“It would be like if [with] your personal budget at home you spent 90 percent of your money on childcare and then everything else is left to cover everything else in your life,” Rudolph said. “We have, just in California, neglected community colleges for years. We are at a crisis point.”

So what does this mean for current students? “We are at 98 percent efficiency,” Rudolph said. “That means if you have a class of 35, there is one spot empty. That is very scary. Students will need to pay attention to their priority and register exactly when their time is or else they might not get into the classes they had wanted. It might take you longer to graduate, transfer and complete your educational plan than you had hoped.”

Budget cuts have already devastated many categorical programs designed to assist students, such as student services and EOPNS (extended opportunity) along with disability resources, resulting in fewer services available to students. The cuts have also affected operational hours for counseling, library service hours and records and admissions, which were previously going to be extended.

With fewer faculty positions, current faculty have to take on more work. “It’s unfortunate for full-time faculty who are already carrying more responsibility.” said an SRJC teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. The faculty are busier and fewer committees are able to be formed to help fill vacant positions. There are simply not enough people available to get the work done.

“In general, I look around and where we used to have three people doing jobs we have two now if we’re lucky,” Rudolph said. “That’s the biggest thing, you’re going to have longer lines, longer waits and fewer choices.”

The first courses cut were those with multiple sections that had empty seats. Many electives and the majority of off-campus classes were also cut. It came down to meeting general education requirements first. “You may not get 12 choices anymore, but you still get four of the classes that are going to be offered. So it’s fewer, but it’s what you need.” Rudolph said. The Physical Education department also saw deep cuts, along with courses for community members and senior programs. Rudolph pointed out, “It’s a shift in the mission. By making these cuts we are not doing what we used to do. We are the community’s college, but now we’re having to say no to a lot of things that we love doing.”

As for bringing back previously cut classes and faculty positions, it could be some time before that can happen. This year there was a 10 percent cut district-wide, meaning 10 percent fewer classes are to be offered at SRJC.

These actions are necessary in order to keep the institution open and working along with hiring faculty and staff and offering services.

There are also currently a number of proposals floating around in the state legislature involving raising tuition and registration fees and limiting the number of classes students can take before they can no longer take classes. “I am really worried about the choices that are going to be available for our students,” Rudolph said.