Revenue ideas turned down by President Tsang


With California's community college system reeling from budget cuts due to the state's economic crisis, Santa Monica College has not been immune to the far-reaching decisions emanating from Sacramento.

            Due to these decisions, certain district committees have made efforts to propose ideas that could generate and save revenue for the district; however those ideas, according to some, have fallen on deaf ears.

            Earlier this year, Howard Stahl, Co-Chair of the Budget Committee for the District Planning and Advisory Council, worked for months to draft a series of ideas with the purpose of better managing the district's spending. As early as January 26, President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang had stated in a DPAC meeting, "the District has exhausted all options for reducing expenditures."

            The committee comprised different constituent groups of SMC: administrators, faculty, classified representatives, and students. According to an article written by Stahl in the Faculty Association Bulletin from May, "As you can imagine, getting support from all these different groups is a long, involved process."

            By March 30 the proposals, including 26 ideas, were accepted by DPAC and forwarded to Dr. Tsang for review. However, on April 27, DPAC met again and Dr. Tsang returned the ideas to the budget committee.

            The official response from Dr. Tsang stated: "He appreciates the efforts by the Budget Planning Subcommittee (BPS) and DPAC in developing the 2011-2012 Cost Saving and Revenue Ideas. However, he is returning the ideas to DPAC and the BPS because he does not feel that they rise to the level of the severe state funding issues the District is facing."

            Since turning down the proposals, there has been an evident polarity of opinion to Dr. Tsang's decision, described by Stahl as a "healthy difference of opinion."

            According to Dr. Tsang, who commented on the matter during an interview, "I did not reject the ideas—I sent the list back to them; I want the committee to work a little harder," he said. "We're looking at numbers that are very large, and I want them to come up with ideas that will generate a more significant number, with larger savings for the college."

            However, according to the itemized list of proposals, the total savings (with revenue increases included) over the next three years was projected to be as high as $17.1 million, with $7.4 million within the first fiscal year of 2011-12.

            "It's unbelievable," said Mitra Moassessi, President of the Faculty Association. "I was super frustrated by this. To me, it's just very heartbreaking to do that, to get a response like that. I've been racking my brains trying to understand."

            Understanding his decision has been decidedly difficult, at least to those who drafted the Cost Saving and Revenue Ideas. But for Bob Isomoto, Vice President of Business and Administration, Dr. Tsang's decision was predictable and intelligible.

            "In general, the ideas were suggested last year—and they weren't rejected because they're bad ideas, but because we're already working on most of them. We've cut 15% from the 4,000 and 5,000 series, or 12% of our budget," Isomoto said, referring to supplies & materials and contract services included in SMC's budget.

            "I assert that they are not small items, and they would equal multimillions in savings," said Stahl. "It's also important to know that with all the measures on the DPAC budget proposals—not one penny comes from class cuts."

            One of the biggest points of contention Stahl and the Budget Committee had with Dr. Tsang's response was that when asked if Dr. Tsang had "costed out" the items before he came to his decision, Isomoto had disclosed that Dr. Tsang had not.

            "Anybody can say, 'I can save you $20 million over five years.' But what I need to see are credible, realistic, convincing numbers that can be made sense of. What I don't need is this 'gotcha' stuff here—SMC doesn't need this 'gotcha' stuff. If they have sensible ideas, I ask them to back them up," said Dr. Tsang, explaining his logic behind sending the proposals back to Stahl and the Budget Committee without costing them out.

            "One thing I can say is that five years ago, we faced the same problem under very similar circumstances," said Stahl. "Solutions were brought to Dr. [Piedad F.] Robertson, the former president of SMC, and the solutions were rejected, resulting in a 25% reduction in the college."