State budget cuts will affect BC come spring

Maryann Kopp and Maryann Kopp

California’s budget issues could affect Bakersfield College in a potentially big way, should Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal pass as it currently stands.
The governor is seeking to make cuts in several areas to help California deal with its financial situation and has proposed taking $332.2 million away from community colleges. The Kern Community College District would, then, stand to lose an estimated $6.1 million, $4 million of which goes directly to BC.
What that means to BC in terms of where the cuts will be made is yet to be determined, as an agreement on the budget has not been met at this point.
BC president Greg Chamberlain, when asked for specifics, said, “We don’t have any specifics at this point. Nothing has been finalized, and there have been several proposals. We should be OK for the rest of the school year, but next year will be the real problem since the inherent problems in the state budget have not been resolved.”
In preparation for the cuts, BC plans to make up for the money lost by dipping into funds from district reserves, carry-over and unfilled staff positions. The spring and summer sections will be “reduced somewhat,” as well.
“There are two proposals being discussed in Sacramento: one from the governor and one from the Legislative Analyst Office,” said John Gerhold, a music professor and the president of the academic senate for BC. “The LAO proposal includes fee increases for students, the governor’s does not. The legislature may choose one of these options, mix them or develop their own approach, which is less likely.”
Gerhold, like Chamberlain, made an “educated guess” and said that the summer semester will more than likely offer fewer classes and any low enrollment classes (being less than 24 students enrolled in a class) for the spring semester may be cancelled.
“The reason for this is that our district has nearly met its quota of students for the year and we are not even through the first semester,” said Gerhold.
While the financial future for the KCCD seems bleak and has yet to be decided, Gerhold maintains that the situation may not be as bad as imagined for now.
According to the Community College Association, KCCD currently has $24 million in unrestricted reserves that generates over $1 million in annual interest income. It also has $6 million in restricted reserves and $6 million in reserves for the Self Insured Schools of California.
In addition to these figures, the KCCD also added $7.4 million to the unrestricted reserves during July and expects a $6.2 million reduction in state revenue for August of 2009.
All the same, with the employment rate increasing, community colleges have seen an increase in enrollment. This poses as a problem when considering the number of classes that will actually be offered to the increasing number of students.
The Community College League of California is involved in the current struggle. According to its website, the CCLC “is a nonprofit benefit corporation whose voluntary membership consists of the 72 local community college districts in California.” Its main office is located in Sacramento.
Scott Lay, the president and CEO of the CCLC, said in an email, “The legislative analyst’s long-term fiscal analysis shows that the state will continue having to make difficult choices for several years.
“We learned that 1,526,000 Californians are now unemployed, bringing October’s rate to 8.2% from 7.7% in September. By 2010, the number of unemployed is expected to increase by over 400,000 Californians, creating even greater demand for community colleges.”
Lay has been encouraging students and faculty to speak out against the cuts and spoke about the students at Merced College who recently held a protest against it. He also added that Bakersfield and the surrounding areas may be crucial in passing a budget that would be in favor of community colleges throughout California.
“In addition to telling compelling stories about their lives to local television stations and newspapers, the students were collecting postcards to send to their local legislators – key Central Valley swing votes from both parties,” Lay said, and concluded that he hopes others “will join us in our long-term fight for community colleges.”