Budget cuts could hurt

On January 10, 2011, California Governor Jerry Brown proposed a budget cut of $12.5 billion from state spending due to the $26.6 billion budget deficit. The proposed budget will cut $400 million, a 6.8 percent reduction in funding, from California community colleges.

Governor Brown's budget plan includes raising student fees from $26 per unit to $36 per unit. An increase of 38.5 percent that, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, will produce $110 million for community colleges, which will support an additional 50,000 students.

Along with the $400 million budget cut from the California community colleges general fund, the budget plan includes a cut of $2 billion from the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee for K-12 and community colleges if an extension of tax increase does not pass, according to Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO).

An additional $129 million in funds to the community colleges will be put on hold, according to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors.

The LAO has also suggested further cuts by another $13.5 billion, added to the budget cut of $12.5 billion, with another $685 million funding cut from the community colleges. This additional reduction would cut over $1 billion from the community colleges alone. SMC revenue would be reduced by $15.3 million and would lose approximately 9,865 students, downsizing SMC, according to the SMC Board of Trustees.

California Community Colleges Chancellor, Jack Scott, stated, after Governor Brown's budget proposal, that "these are difficult times for California and there's no way to avoid the pain of budget cuts. However, if our community colleges sustain reductions of this magnitude, we anticipate up to 350,000 students will be turned away next year."

Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees set up 15 guiding principles to follow, during their March 1st meeting, as strategic budget plan elements, which will help SMC deal with the budget cuts for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The principles state what SMC will stand by in order to meet the budget deficit, even though nothing is official.

One of the principles SMC is mostly concentrating on is avoiding layoffs of permanent employees, furloughs, pursuing freezing of salaries, decreasing salaries, and "other temporary or ongoing adjustments", according to the SMC Board of Trustees.

Bruce Smith, SMC Public Information Officer, confirmed that no decisions have been made regarding short and long term cuts. "It's certain that there will be a reduction in course offerings and perhaps cutting the winter session," said Smith.

SMC President Chui L. Tsang sent a letter to all SMC faculty and staff, informing them of the "worst state budget year for California community colleges in decades."

Effective February 1st, Tsang has ordered a "district-wide hiring freeze." There will be no staff replacement or new staff hiring at SMC, unless it is considered crucial in order to keep SMC functioning properly. These are just a few of the decisions SMC has to make in order to operate with a budget deficit.

Thursday, March 10, Governor Brown wants to pass his proposed budget plan to the lawmakers. The lawmakers will also need to vote on the increased tax extensions to be put on the ballot for the June election. Brown will need two-thirds of Republican votes for the budget plan to be put on a ballot.

The increased tax extensions, which were imposed in 2009, will bring $14 billion to California's budget by June 30, 2012, along with the $12.5 billion in budget cuts. The tax extensions expire on July 1st and will only continue if voters vote for them on June 7.

Failure of extending the increased taxes will be even more disastrous for California community colleges, because of the $2 billion Proposition 98 cut that will further set SMC back in the upcoming years. Governor Brown has promised more cuts to state programs if his proposed budget and increased tax extensions don't pass.

During a press conference Monday, March 7, Governor Brown admitted not getting any support from the Republican lawmakers regarding the budget proposal. Since an agreement has not been made between the Democrats and Republicans, the March 10 deadline could be set for a later date.

"There isn't anything known regarding cuts at SMC, we just have to wait and see what the state does," said Smith.