Winter axed, more cuts possible

Sweeping changes are coming to Santa Monica College as the Board of Trustees approved a new budget September 6 that eliminates the upcoming winter session, and calls for a potential permanent reduction of services at the college. During the meeting, President and Superintendent Dr. Chui L. Tsang said that the slimmer budget was based on the passing of the November tax initiative Proposition 30, and warned that the school would face “catastrophic” consequences if it fails, with further cuts of $7-8 million. 

A Dark Winter

In the winter of 1992, SMC became the first community college in California to offer an “inter-session” between the fall and spring semesters. The program was introduced to help students accrue credits faster, and was adopted as a model at many other colleges around the state.

At its height, the program offered 800 sections to students. The previous session in 2012 was cut to an offering of 400, with only one class available per student.

“We were one of the last hold outs where the Winter Session is concerned,” SMC Public Information Officer Bruce Smith said of the decision. “It’s the least painful of solutions that we can see.”

According to the college, cutting the winter session from the budget this year saves the school approximately $2.5 million.

“Whatever happens with Proposition 30 will help us determine what path to take in the winter,” Smith said. “It’s possible the campus could be dark.”

The college has made no official determination over whether or not the semester scheduling will change in 2013. 

Protesting in Paradise

A group of about eighty students, led by Michael Pronilover, who is the unofficial leader of the Student Organizing

Committee, angrily protested the Winter Session cuts outside the Thursday meeting.

Many of the student protesters had been involved in the much-publicized pepper-spraying incident at last April’s board meeting, when the hot-button issue was the pilot program Contract Education, a measure that the administration maintains could have been a solution to budget cuts and austerity measures like the axing of the winter session.

Throughout their protest and during the public comments section of the meeting, the student activists hurled insults and allegations at the Board and school administrators.

Chants of “No cuts, no fees, education must be free!” have returned from the Spring semester, in addition to a banner reading, “It’s Our School! It’s Not Your Piggy Bank.”

During the meeting, protesters accused the board of using school funds for their own financial gain. Board members receive a stipend of $400 per month for their positions, and several board members donate their stipends to the SMC Foundation.

“The action of a small group of students isn’t enough,” Pronilover said. “There’s only ten of [The Trustees] and 40,000 of us. Let’s take back our school.”

Pronilover urged the student body to strike, and warned there would be long-term efforts over years to resolve deeper issues that he felt were manifested by the eradication of a winter session.

Pronilover declined to comment to The Corsair.

The Board Responds

Rob Rader, a member of the Board, commented on the board’s decision after the event.

“I wish I could pull a winter session and a rabbit out of the hat, but unfortunately I can’t,” he said.

Rader added that he understood and empathized with the student body, and called the situation “a generational disappointment.”

Rader offered that although students could argue that education was their right, it would not make it free.

Rader said that he was disappointed with the continued rhetoric of students who he thought didn’t seem to have thought things through to a “practical end.”

Rader said that the winter session was eliminated, as it threatened the very existence of the college.

Though Board Chair Margaret Quinones-Perez told The Corsair she was worried about the student’s actions that night, the only physical rumblings in the actual meeting were from a nearby 3.5 earthquake that occurred early after midnight.

More Cuts? No if Prop 30 passes.

Further cuts would occur, Smith says, if Proposition 30 fails in November.

“Though we’ve not looked at details, there might be a combination of furloughs and lay-offs for classified employees,” he said.

The school has not yet determined which semester the 500-section reduction will affect, though it means less offerings and less teaching hours for instructors.

There is no specific department designated where the cuts will be made, though Smith said that some sections of summer 2013 could be reduced if a mid-year cut is made.

Another $7-8 million reduction is expected to occur if Prop 30 doesn’t pass.

“We’re looking at a bleak outlook for 2013 if it doesn’t pass. It doesn’t look good short-term and looks just as grim in the future,” said Smith.

Conversely, if the measure passes, the school expects to retain classified employees and faculty at their current levels.

“If Prop 30 passes, there will be no lay-offs; the worst year will be behind us,” Smith said, adding that the school would also be able to add the winter session for the 2014 school year.

Amy Gaskin contributed to this report.