Community colleges brace for cuts, again
Reductions inevitable for Foothill-De Anza, even with $10M 'rainy day fund'
Due to deep state cuts to public higher education, local community colleges will have to cut back on courses, turn away students and lay off part-time faculty in the coming school year, officials from the Foothill-De Anza Community College District said.
Though it is unclear how much state funding will be cut from the district's budget in the 2011-12 school year, Linda Thor, Foothill-De Anza's chancellor, expects to lose at least $8.5 million.
The state has informed community colleges throughout California that cuts are definitely coming, Thor said. Further reductions could be in the works halfway through the school year, if the state fails to come up with its goal of $4 billion in revenue.
If at least $3 billion in the hoped-for state revenue materializes, there will be no further cuts to Foothill-De Anza beyond the $8.5 million, Thor said. However, in a worst-case scenario, the district will need to compensate for a reduction of about $10.5 million.
Because about 95 percent of the district's revenue comes from the state, all cuts handed down from Sacramento are significant.
According to Kevin McElroy, the district's vice chancellor, Foothill-De Anza is bracing for a total deficit of $22.8 million, which they hope to make up for through class and staffing reductions, borrowing from the individual colleges and through a $10.7 million "rainy day fund."
In the best case scenario, the district is planning to reduce its capacity for full-time students by 6.15 percent, which means about 3,935 fewer students — full-time and part-time — would be served in total, said Thor.
In the worst-case scenario, the district would have to pare back its full-time student load by more than 7.5 percent, or about 4,834 full- and part-time students.
Further complicating matters, the district will not know if the worst case scenario will come to pass until December 15, after many students have already enrolled in classes, which could mean that fees would be raised retroactively at Foothill and De Anza colleges, Thor and McElroy said. Any increase would come on top of a $7-per-unit bump that is already built into the governor's budget, starting this fall; the cost for a typical four-unit class will rise from $68 to $92.
Thor estimated that as many as 200 part-time faculty and staff might not be hired back next year; open administrative positions will not be filled whenever possible; and benefits will remain at last year's levels.
If there is any bright side to the gloomy news, Thor said, it is that the Foothill-De Anza board of trustees previously overestimated the severity of future cuts and managed to set aside about $10.7 million to help minimize reductions in 2011-12.
"The district is very fortunate in that our board of trustees had been anticipating more bad times and had established what we called the stability fund, what others might call a rainy day fund," Thor said.
Thor estimates that Foothill-De Anza would use up the majority of the "rainy day fund" next year making up for its deficit.
McElroy, who was appointed vice chancellor of the district last August, has been working in California public schools since 1985.
"In the 26 years that I've been here, I've never seen it this bad," McElroy said of the state's budget situation. He noted that recessions hit state community colleges in 1993 and 2003, but neither caused as much damage as the current recession.
Neither of the previous economic downturns he saw as vice president of administrative services at Coastline Community College in Fountain Valley, Calif., lasted as long as the current slump, McElroy said. The Foothill-De Anza district has been losing state funding since 2008.
"We have cycles," McElroy said. "This is just a really bad cycle."
"The thing that is most troubling for us," Thor said, "is that California had the best higher education system in the country and it's being decimated. Who knows if we'll ever be able to recover from that?"
Thor and McElroy tried to balance optimism with a realistic outlook about the future of their schools and the state's community college system overall.
"I want to stress, we don't want to be discouraging people from coming to our colleges," Thor said. "We are managing the cuts the best we can. We are doing everything we can to be able to serve the community at a level close to what they've been used to."