SMC Budget Crisis and Prop AA Hopes

Santa Monica College might have to increase tuition and class sizes because of the current California state budget crisis.

"We're facing a financial situation we have not seen before," SMC President Chui Tsang said in an interview yesterday. "It's really really bad." During the mid-year budget cuts, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans on decreasing community college funding by 5 per cent, Tsang said.

Last Thursday, Schwarzenegger announced the reality of California's decrepit budget. Currently, California has an $11.2 billion deficit. State legislators and Schwarzenegger want to curb this figure by cutting state-funded programs.

This equates to cutting $6 million from SMC's budget. "We don't know how the budget cuts will affect SMC," Tsang said. "But I know they will affect us deeply." Offering the same number of classes at a high quality will be challenging, Tsang said.

In anticipation of the budget cuts, Tsang sent an e-mail to the entire SMC faculty and staff on Thursday warning them of the situation. In the e-mail, Tsang outlined six points where SMC could cut and save up to $1.5 million.

"In the meantime we're doing what we can without affecting our operation," Tsang said. "[We need] to save what we can because we know the cuts are coming."

"We want to preserve our enrollment so that we can offer as many seats to the students as we can right now," Tsang said. However, SMC might have stop hiring the current level of temporary employees. "There are jobs that are vacant and we don't have anybody... either in grounds or in admissions office and other places," Tsang said.

There might be an increase in classroom size because there will be less teachers with the same number of students. Tsang asked the rhetorical question, "If we have three courses with 20 students in them, can we package them so that we can have two courses and have them each have 30 students?"

The consolidation of class size is part of a long-term plan to cut costs at SMC. Bedsides the 5 per cent proposed budget cut, California has slashed the cost of living increases previously given to community colleges. Until this year, California gave a 5 per cent increase to community college budgets to outpace the cost of living. Because the state doesn't have any money, they reduced it to .68 percent, Tsang said.

The cost-of-living adjustment will be eliminated altogether under the currently proposed plans. "By not giving us a cost of living adjustment, we're actually basically seeing our buying power going down by five per cent every year," Tsang said. These include Schwarzenegger's plan and the alternative, which is the State Legislative Analyst Office proposed budget.

"They are both bad," Tsang said. Schwarzenegger's plan cuts SMC's budget, while the State Legislative Analyst wants to increase student tuition. "It is a significant increase," Tsang said. "But on the whole as a far as cost of education goes...California is still paying one of the lowest tuitions in the country for community colleges."

The State Legislative Analyst Office wants to raise tuition to $30 per unit by June, Tsang said. "We hope there will be no increase because this is a hard time for a lot of students."

No matter what version of the budget cuts are passed, Proposition AA will still improve SMC's infrastructure, Tsang said. "We'll be replacing a lot of existing buildings," Tsang said. "We'll have some small addition of classroom space." The budget cuts won't affect getting teachers to fill the new classrooms, Tsang said.

For the next 30 to 60 days, SMC will be waiting anxiously for the budget cuts to pass, Tsang said. "[We must] wait for the information to come out and be very prudent with our expenditure and be careful about it and move very quickly once we have the information."

Until then, SMC has the difficult job of seeing what can go and what can stay. "[We're] looking at some areas that aren't core functions of the college," Tsang said. "[We must] look at those areas and do some trimming." What ever happens the solution won't come easily. "There's no magical solution," Tsang said. "I've gone through these reductions twice now and none of those are as severe as what we are facing at this time."