Local college district braces for more students, fewer services
With administration sitting on nearly $20 million in reserves, faculty and classified employees seek answers
By Shane Eli Cohn 05/20/2010
Though Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has spared higher education in California with his proposed 2010-11 budget cuts, the Ventura County Community College district (VCCCD) is still coping with an expected $6.5 million shortfall during the next year.
To make provisions for the shortfall, district administration has cut nearly 90 faculty positions, and more than 90 classified employee positions have been eliminated or reduced in the past year. One of the two 2010 summer sessions has been eliminated, and health center services have been reduced.
Consequently, a 20 percent increase in enrollment has created a dramatic increase in class size.
“The faculty understands we are in a crisis situation,” said Jeff Baker, Academic Senate president for the district.
What has those like Baker and the Local 1828 of American Federation of Teachers perplexed is that even after the recent cuts and setbacks, the college district still has $20 million of public funds in reserve.
Though the district’s board of trustees was not available for comment, Baker suggested that the reserve remains untapped because the economic climate has the district predicting a further decline for which the funds could be more necessary.
“They (administration) say that 2012-13 is going to be worse,” said Baker. “But they said the same thing about 2010-11.”
John Wagner, president of the AFT Local 1828, believes that administration layoffs have not been proportional to those of the faculty and classified groups. As a result of one of the summer sessions being eliminated, many faculty and classified employees have lost work while the administrators — the highest-paid employees in the district — will still work 12 months.
“We respect the trustees’ desire to manage the district’s finances prudently, but the mission of the colleges is to educate the students, not hoard money,” said Wagner. “The board should be eliminating waste, reducing legal expenses, cutting back further on management positions and spending down the reserves in a controlled and reasonable manner in order to minimize the effect on students.”
The students have recognized and reacted to the struggles affecting their education. Kadeem Coad, 20, the executive director of the student government at Ventura College, said the layoffs have resulted in less classes being offered, and with the closure of the upcoming summer session, it becomes difficult for students transferring to four-year institutions to get the classes they need and maintain their financial aid.
Recognizing the serious impact of fewer classes and the lack of a summer session, the Associated Students of Ventura College took matters into their own hands and recently donated $20,000, one-third of their budget, to add four summer classes.
Though the reduction of employees and of hours is a way to cut the budget within the district, students potentially face a more expensive education and a decline in their health services. Health center coordinators recently had their 300 extra hours of working time eliminated for the year, and will also be closed for four weeks beginning mid-May through June 20.
“The impact is there are a lot of our health science students that usually come to the health center for their appraisal,” said Elaine Tennen, health care coordinator at the Ventura College Student Health Center. “These are costly exams, lab work and immunizations. So if they can’t come to us, they have to go to a health care provider in the community, and it will significantly cost them a lot more money for them to be seen.”
The 300 extra hours that were cut from the health care coordinators were traditionally used to coordinate health services for the campuses, such as community outreach, health promotion, committee work and safety on campus.
With the recent cuts, the health care coordinators acknowledged that it is highly unlikely that these extra health services will continue as they once did.
“Committee work and efforts we were using our coordinator hours for, there is just no way to do that now,” said Sharon Manakas, health services coordinator at Moorpark College. “A lot of what we do is provide direct care in health services, but we also have a big part on campus in looking at the students for the health, mental health and social issues that are going on, and working on it with a college community.”
While the $20 million remains tied up in reserve, the district’s classified staff has also been asked to provide the same services but in less time and with fewer bodies.
“They are restructuring and making plans for what they consider a more efficient providing of services,” said Dan Casey, chief steward for Service Employees International Union, Local 99 VCCCD. “But I’m not sure if the district is open to classified’s point of view.”
Casey said that the union is currently negotiating furlough arrangements that would mitigate job loss, but it’s difficult for both sides to agree to what is equitable.
“It’s a tough fight for everyone in the U.S. right now,” acknowledged Casey. “We want to work with the district, not just what’s best for classified, but for higher education in the county.”