Less Money For Higher Education Available

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Courtesy of DailyBulletin.com:

Gov. Jerry Brown announced on Tuesday $1 billion in cuts to higher education and social services, but for the time being avoided more cutbacks for K-12 schools.

The state fell $2.2 billion short of revenue projections – a situation that triggers midyear budget cuts under the budget agreement approved last June by Brown and Democratic legislators.

With the shortfall not quite as bad as in the prior estimate, however, the state steers clear of deeper cuts to public schools that could have meant reducing the school year by up to a week.

The new cuts include $100 million funding reductions each for the community colleges, University of California, California State University, developmental services, and a 20 percent reduction in funding for in-home support for seniors and the disabled. Cuts would also be made for child care assistance, library grants and prisons, among other programs.

A Legislative Analyst’s Office report assumes the cuts to be ongoing through the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Annually, the cuts mean a $4.8 million reduction to Cal Poly Pomona, a $4 million cut to Cal State San Bernardino, and a $1.8 million cut to Mt. San Antonio College. College leaders said discussions on further austerity measures are ongoing.

“It’s going to make things extremely difficult for us to meet the expectations that people have of the university,” said Cal Poly President J. Michael Ortiz, who added the cuts could further impact the school’s maintenance budget.

Albert Karnig, Cal State San Bernardino president, said over the long term, the consequences of less funding for higher education mean serving fewer students or the same number of students less effectively.

“The way you do that is that perhaps you don’t have as many instructional faculty as you wish, perhaps you increase class sizes, and engage in other strategies that could go all the way to eliminating particular kinds of programs,” Karnig said. “There are a lot of options, but unfortunately, each one of those is pretty unattractive to students.”

Bill Scroggins, president of Mt. San Antonio Community College, said the school has already reduced course offerings by 10 percent in the past five years. He said further cuts will mean an increase in community college fees by $10 per unit.

Mt. SAC is reeling from a series of cuts in the past five years and its budget is currently $7 million out of balance, Scroggins said.

“A real challenge is what to do with next year’s budget,” Scroggins said. “We anticipate having a serious discussion on what we should stop doing. Do we stop doing core parts of our mission? Do we stop certain programs? Do we cut back on core services, or stop paying for certain things that we know we have to have in the long term but maybe we could get along without for a year or two?”

While public college and university officials brace for less money, K-12 officials express some level of relief. Still, with Brown poised to announce further trigger cuts as part of his 2012-2013 budget proposal on Jan. 10, officials remain cautious.

“From what we have seen and heard, it appears to be good news. However, the cuts to transportation remain troubling as safety and attendance are of the utmost importance to us,” said Chino Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Julie Gobin. “Until we see the details, we will remain optimistic and cautious.”

Richard Martinez, superintendent of the Pomona Unified School District, is also anxious to hear about further budget cuts from Sacramento. Martinez said a larger cut to K-12 could have meant six fewer school days at his district with consideration of more furlough days.

“It’s somewhat of a reprieve for K-12 at this time and we’re going to wait until January until the governor proposes next year’s budget. We’ll see what that means to education,” Martinez said. “Fortunately we won’t have to go into additional furlough days.”

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the governor’s new budget proposal will include the assumption of $7 billion extra in revenue, which Brown hopes will come through his tax increase plan.

The governor last week announced a tax ballot initiative proposal to help fund education and public safety. If approved by the voters, sales tax would increase by a half-cent and upper-income earners would see a tax increase of 2 percent.

The plan would generate about $7 billion over five years. The state deficit stands at $13 billion.

“As much as I know, the goal is to raise only about half of the deficit by $7 billion, so there will remain a $6 billion shortfall,” Karnig said. “In the absence of some intervention, I think the outcome could be really catastrophic.”

Staff Writer Will Bigham contributed to this report.

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