Students talk brass tacks in town hall meeting

  On Thursday, May 12, two outspoken student groups hosted an open town hall meeting. The meeting's purpose was to educate and bring about a generalized discussion concerning California's budget crisis, and how it affects the Santa Monica College district.

Hosted by Student Unity Project and M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan), the meeting was advertised all around the main campus on flyers. Guest speakers included Mitra Moassessi, President of the Faculty Association, Connie Lemke, California School Employees Union Representative, and Mikhail Pronilover, Speaker for Student Unity Project.

"It's really hard to be a student at this time, and I'm really glad I'm not a student," said Moassessi. "Your job is very hard, because you basically have two issues that you need to deal with. You need to deal with issues locally, and statewide."

According to Governor Jerry Brown's recent California budget revision, the total Community College Apportionment Reduction will result in a decreased $400 million base reduction. However, that base reduction will be offset by $110 million by raising tuition fees from $26 per unit to $36 per unit, bringing the net apportionment reduction to $290 million.

While these cuts will result in a projected loss of $5.57 million apportionment reduction for SMC, along with a projected loss of 1,243 full time students, these cuts represent the most lenient scenario expected to affect SMC, falling under what was described as "scenario A" during President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang's Town Hall Meeting last March.

Pronilover, speaking on behalf of Student Unity Project, prepared an extensive PowerPoint presentation entitled "Budget Cuts and the Future of Public Education." Included in Pronilover's presentation were figures and data illuminating, among other things, the disparity between funding for higher education versus incarceration, the amount of state revenue lost to California's policy of not taxing oil companies, and Proposition 13, amounting to $528 billion in lost funds since 1978.

Pronilover also began to explain the system of "shared governance" at SMC, quoted, he said, "because I'm not sure how shared that governance is."

Recalling a recent disagreement between the District Planning and Advisory Council's Budget Committee and Dr. Tsang (who is also the DPAC chairman), Howard Stahl, Co-Chair of the DPAC Budget Committee, had for months worked to prepare various savings and revenue ideas to present to DPAC.

"It went on to DPAC—it was discussed and voted on, remember with equal representation from all the constituents, and it passes, it goes to President Tsang— and he says, 'well, I don't like it,'" said Pronilover.

The official response of Dr. Tsang was that "he is returning the ideas to DPAC and the BPSC because he does not feel that they rise to the level of the severe state funding issues the District is facing."

Eva Blumfield, Student Unity Project Representative, claimed that the purpose of the meeting was "not to demonize the administration," however at one point during Pronilover's presentation, the subject of Dr. Tsang's salary, which was projected at $250,000 "plus bonuses, car, and cell phone allowances," was described by Pronilover as "absolutely absurd."

Dr. Tsang, who responded in a separate interview, pointed out that, "on the whole, our salary range is pretty average, with the exception of the faculty; they are set fairly high. And we're proud of that—that is not something we want to change."

Joshua Scuteri, newly elected Associated Students Trustee, attended the town hall meeting and commented on the meeting in a separate interview. "I'm too new to offer an opinion on the budget, but I understand there's a lot of angst over the deficit; a lot of anger rising," he said. "The meeting really solidified for me a lot of the anger students feel."