As a week of budget presentations drew to a close Friday, about 50 people packed into a humanities lecture classroom to hear where SBCC will be financially in the upcoming school year.
The big question mark is just how much the college will have to cut. Right now, the answer ranges anywhere from $5.6 million to $14.6 million, depending on Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget and whether his tax increases are approved by voters in the fall.
California has put higher education on a difficult timeline. Brown’s May revised budget hasn’t even come out yet, and SBCC begins priority registration for its fall classes next week. Students will be enrolled before SBCC knows how much is must ax, pushing the majority of the cuts down the road.
If Brown’s tax initiatives don’t pass this fall, 285 SBCC sections offered for credit would have to be reduced, according to school officials.
Cutting from the summer session to preserve normal school-year offerings was rejected by the community and the Board of Trustees earlier this week. Although that move was avoided for the 4,000 students already enrolled in summer school, officials have said it must be on the table for cuts next year.
Several people expressed concern about SBCC’s move to make those cuts. One said that many people would be prepared to pay more for the summer classes they need. She suggested a “pay-what-you-can model” so some students would have the option to pay more, while remaining open to everyone.
“Our kids can’t get prepared without you,” another speaker said. “Parents on the street are concerned.”
Acting President/Superintendent Jack Friedlander reminded those in the room what happened earlier this month at Santa Monica City College. Trustees there approved a two-tier fee for classes, charging $180 for about 50 general education classes such as English and accounting. The remainder of the 700 classes the college offers would have been offered at $46 a unit.
But critics of the plan said the increases shut out lower-income students. Protesters stormed a trustees meeting, and some were pepper-sprayed by police.
Friedlander said preserving public access to SBCC was crucial. Ironically, as other countries are following the community college model, the United States is cutting back.
“As they’re replicating what we’re doing, we’re closing the door,” he said.
SBCC is also discussing reorganizing Continuing Education for a $1.4 million savings, charging more for student parking permits, enforcing parking rules more aggressively, and entering salary and benefit negotiations with the college’s bargaining units.
The school is also looking at what programs are in demand, and may consolidate those with dwindling interest from students.
SBCC won’t break even this year, but it must try to make enough cuts to balance its budget by 2013-2014. That’s when reserves will drop below $18.8 million, forcing the school to borrow to cover its operating expenses at that point.
“That’s when we’ll eventually run out of cash,” said Joe Sullivan, SBCC’s vice president of business services.
He said SBCC must begin planning for the cuts, but can’t execute them immediately because of labor contracts in place.
All of the school’s noncredit, nonenhanced classes will be fee-based this fall, because “the state is telling us these are the lowest priority,” Friedlander said. That’s 255 classes that were previously free and students will now be expected to pay for.
“There will be backlash,” he said.
One speaker commended the changes.
“Things are not going to get better out there,” she said. “I commend you for going to fee-based. You have to do that.”
Moving forward, the specific cuts need to be in place, and an adopted budget approved by the trustees by Sept. 15. Budget discussions will be taking place over the summer, as well.
“Please participate; it’s important,” Sullivan said.
Another person recommended that the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College help pay for more operating expenses.
“Their funding is one-time,” said Friedlander, adding that the foundation would help where it could.
But for the growing shortfalls, some tough decisions will need to be made.
“These are structural budget problems that we need to address,” he said.