Wednesday, March 12, 2008 | The San Diego Community College District is not handing out layoff notices in the face of the most serious state financial crisis in a decade. The state’s deficit is expected to grow from $16 billion in January to $20 billion in May, when the governor will be submitting his latest budget revisions to the legislature.

Last week, the state’s Department of Finance announced that property taxes would be less than anticipated, causing a cumulative reduction of nearly $80 million in the state’s community college’s budgets.

Why are no layoffs being planned? Because of excellent fiscal management and shared core values that put protection of employees and service to students at the top of all budget priorities. In addition, Dr. Constance Carroll, the district’s chancellor, and the board of trustees of the district are committed to protecting contract faculty and staff from layoffs. Chancellor Carroll said, “Our permanent faculty and staff are the heart and soul of our organization, and our fundamental purpose is service to students. Based on these values, we have decided to do everything in our power to avoid a negative impact on employees and students.”

The district’s 2008-09 preliminary budget includes nearly $800 million in funds from bond measures, restricted and unrestricted state funds, and grants and contracts. The budget plan, utilizing unrestricted general operating funds, calls for an expenditure level of approximately $223 million. The district is anticipating a balanced budget that will require between $6.5 million to $10 million in adjustments.

Based on the governor’s Jan. 10 budget proposal, the community college district is facing next year with no state-funded cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), cuts in categorical program funding ranging from 3.6 percent to 10.9 percent and only 1 percent for enrollment growth.

The district’s budget plan includes a wide range of cost-containment activities including a delay in filling a number of faculty, staff and administrative positions, designated reductions in spending, and other activities still under consideration.

Maintaining a highly motivated faculty and staff is a key element in stimulating student excitement and engagement in the class room. It would be difficult to maintain faculty morale if layoff notices (“March 15 letters”) to faculty were looming — as they are in many K-12 districts. Statewide, K-12 enrollments are decreasing and the Governor’s budget proposes a $1.2 billion cut in K-12 funding. Community colleges’ enrollments continue to increase and proposed budget cuts are modest. Still, operating costs will increase for utilities, insurance, equipment and supplies, step in column, and additional higher education and training for faculty and staff which will be reflected on the district’s salary schedule.

Speaking for the trustees, Board Executive Vice President Rich Grosch has praised the district’s preliminary budget as a “sound plan.” Trustee Maria Nieto Senour added that she was proud to see a responsible budget that also avoided faculty and staff layoffs, since “it is important to us as an employer to keep faith with those who work for us, both in teaching courses and in supporting our mission.”

The district’s student leadership is also pleased.

“The students appreciate being included in this process and we are grateful that our classes and needs are being protected,” Student Trustee Brittany Forester said. “This is a difficult situation for all of us students, especially if the state increases the tuition again, but we have confidence in how things are being handled by our chancellor and our district.”

The San Diego Community College District is the second largest community college district in California. It currently enrolls over 100,000 students at City, Mesa, and Miramar colleges, and the six campuses of Continuing Education. The district also serves more than 50,000 members of the U.S. Armed Services at military bases throughout the United States.

Richard Dittbenner is the director of public information and government relations for the San Diego Community College District. Agree? Disagree? Send a letter to the editor.

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