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Serban Fields Questions, Accusations About SBCC Adult Ed Budget

Options for making up a $6.8 million deficit include charging fees for continuing education courses that have been offered for free

It was toward the end of an SBCC budget meeting Wednesday that one speaker best encapsulated the prickly mood of the college’s adult ed students. Continuing Education students may be asked to pay fees for classes that have been free in the past, and the speaker said that, as a taxpayer, she has long invested in the programs that may now have a price tag.

“It’s as if we’ve been asked to put a toll road on Highway 101,” she said.

Those classes, once subsidized by the state of California, now have a cost to the college, which is struggling to support record numbers of students seeking credit courses. Those adult education woes were just one part of Wednesday’s budget presentation, which drew several hundred people to the Wake Center to hear about the dismal financial picture facing SBCC, which must gouge at least $6.8 million from its budget in the coming year.

SBCC President/Superintendent Andreea Serban and Joe Sullivan, vice president of business services, presented the school’s overall financial situation to the crowd, which interrupted several times asking about the school’s adult ed program.

The daunting cuts facing SBCC will require some tough decisions from college leadership in the coming months. Gov. Jerry Brown announced in January that $400 million would be stripped from state community college budgets, which would have serious implications for students. The cuts expected for next year total at least $6.8 million but could be as high as $10.5 million in reductions.

The school gets paid for every full-time student, and it receives funding to maintain the campuses — about $4.6 million for the main campus and $1 million for the Wake and Schott centers. If the school exceeds the state funding for each student, the college must absorb the cost.

That’s what happened in 2009, when the school lost $5.2 million in funding based on the number of students it served. After students were enrolled that fall, the state announced cuts, and the college was left to cut more than $2 million.

“By that time it was too late to change significantly our schedules,” Serban said. “There is a misconception that the more enrollment we have ... the more funding. That’s not true. Each college is given a cap in terms of money.”

Serban was peppered with questions and comments about adult ed, and one speaker said a rumor had circulated that Serban was personally opposed to the adult ed program and that a movement was afoot to remove adult ed from the school’s mission.

“That’s truly an absurd statement,” she said, adding that all the work that has been done is to try to preserve as many classes as possible.

To deal with the budget gap, six scenarios have been developed, depending on how great the cuts are, which will be determined after Brown releases his May budget revision. Reducing credit classes and transforming continuing ed classes to fee-based are among the scenarios. Building in a fee would allow the school to recover the cost, Serban said.

Most of the questions from the public centered on how much fees would increase. Serban said other factors would include how many hours the class meets and how many students would be in the class.

The Legislature voted to increase credit course fees at community colleges to $36 from $26 earlier this year, and “credit students don’t get anything for free,” Serban said.

The state will recover in her lifetime, she said, and when that happens, free classes are an option. But “right now, we simply can’t afford it anymore.”

After the meeting, Board of Trustees president Peter Haslund said that this budget process will not afford easy or painless solutions.

“These rather substantial cuts are likely to be permanent, and none of the seven Board members has discovered how to grow large sums of money to cover this enormous deficit,” he said.

Haslund said he’s confident the board will act as a team to maintain what’s needed in the budget.

Even still, he said, “there are painful choices in our foreseeable future.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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