Students brace for drastic budget cuts

More than 300 classes cut, adjunct professors laid off, and administrators fired as College of the Desert finds ways to make up for massive budget shortfall

by Erik Jenkins, Jr.
Section Editor

Students protest as they march on the University of California at Berkeley campus Thursday, March 4, 2010, in Berkeley, Calif. (Ben Margot/AP Photo)

The looming budget cuts are a major topic being discussed throughout the entire state of California. With the poor economy, California state-funded schools are all being forced to make cuts in jobs and education, and College of the Desert is no exception.

California Governor Jerry Brown made a commitment to close, in one year, a $26 million state budget deficit.  Expenditure cuts of $13 billion in combination with the continuation of expired tax revenues will equal the needed $26 million.

After these cuts have been spread between the affected schools, UC schools and Cal States are being given a budget of $500 million each, $400 million is being given to community colleges, and no budget is being given to the K-through-12 schools.Even though COD is increasing tuition, the college will need to eliminate a minimum of $2 million from its budget next year.

In order to continue the expiring taxes to help state funding, Governor Jerry Brown wanted to have the issue placed on the July ballot; however the issue did not make the ballot.No progress has been made since January regarding the funding situation; however, Governor Brown is still hoping to get the tax issue onto the ballot for November. In order for the taxes to continue, first, politicians must agree to have it voted upon. Second, taxpayers must vote in favor.

“It can succeed or fail at either of these two stages,” says College of the Desert’s Vice President for Business Affairs, Dr. Edwin Deas.If the taxes are not continued, schools will need to double funding cuts, and every school will lose twice as much.  If COD funding reduction is doubled, it will mean $5.5 million in funding cuts. The school sees a $2 million cut as the best case scenario, while $5.5 million is viewed as the worst case scenario at this stage.

The COD president plans to make the cuts gradually over three years, rather than making all the cuts in a single year.“$5.5 million cannot be cut in one year,” says Dr. Deas, “Every penny spent directly or indirectly affects the students, but cutting classes affects the students more directly and quicker.”

College of the Desert receives state funding for a certain number of students a year.  The number of students cannot be fewer than  that number, or the college will not be paid by the state.If the school has more than that number, it is not paid for the extra students. For example, if COD is paid for 100 students and 116 are enrolled, then COD will receive no funding for the extra 16 students.Over the years, the number of students attending COD has risen due to the poor economy.  CSU and UC schools have cut back on their enrollments, which caused community colleges to gain more students. Last year, COD was over its capacity by 16%.

The College of the Desert Board of Trustees agreed that the number of classes and the number of students enrolled should be balanced to the number of FTES funded students. Consequently, the school will reduce its classes to the level of funding available and then find additional savings elsewhere.

Over 300 ($900 thousand) courses have been cut. This cut is costing people their jobs, particularly COD’s adjunct (or part-time) faculty members. Jobs in administration have become vacant and/or are eliminated which will save an additional $500 thousand. Furthermore, there will be reductions in classified staff through retirements and layoffs which will save over $400,000. The total savings of $1.8 million will, therefore, be split evenly between instruction and non-instruction. Some suggest that the school be shut down completely during the summer in order to save money. However, the school’s financial aid, accounting, budgeting, and auditing work are all done over the summer. No staff means none of this work would proceed and this would have very difficult consequences.

Additional cuts are going to happen next year, and everyone will be affected. However, there is nothing else the college can do. For any relief for this situation to happen something has got to change at the state level.“It’s a tough plan to put together,” says Dr. Deas, “This is not the end. It’s just the beginning.”

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