Now is the time to spend the “reserve”

Story By: Rampage Editorial

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Once again, the state has slashed its allocations for the community college system. This is shocking and outrageous, but we have seen this song and dance before. It is the same tango followed by another ominous soundtrack of another cut.

This cut, $149 million as of Feb. 16, is a deep laceration in the educational community of California, especially because it comes on top of the $313 million reduction in the enacted budget of 2011-2012 and the $102 million cut in January pertaining to budget triggers. In total, these cuts have cost community colleges $564 million.

For the State Center Community College District, this means an additional $3.56 million, on top of the January “Triggered” Budget Cut of $2.52 million and the Enacted Budget Cut of $7,700,000 million – a whopping loss of $13.8 million reduction in state funding in one academic year.  Without a doubt, the cut is gargantuan and has the potential to cripple financially compromised colleges and districts.

Take a look at those numbers. They are more than inked shapes on a page. They affect us all in ways that are beyond the imagination. Community colleges have to cut courses, programs and staff. Students will have to scramble to get classes and possibly hold two or three jobs while working towards their degrees.

With these cuts, the government contradicts its own stated commitment towards a better educated population in California. Cutting classes, programs and necessary staff is the quickest way to discourage would-be community college students. What would be the incentive for students to enroll if the programs they need could be gutted or cut?

We know California is in a terrible economic state and that students are expected to adapt to the situation, but adapt to an untenable situation?  The cut to education is also an insult to the vast community of educational employees and students.  We seem to be the first port of call in the state’s journey to reducing its budget shortfalls.

Cuts to education, especially community colleges, should be the last idea embraced by the government when considering ways to cut its budget. California Community Colleges Chancellor, Jack Scott, explained that $107 million of California’s deficit is attributed to the increase of applicants for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver.

The increase in applicants for the fee waiver is blamed on the poor economy. The poor economy can only be alleviated if, and only if, people have the opportunity to a sound higher education and better job training and increased employment opportunities. This is how it has to be.

The state should take a break from making cuts to education and instead focus more energy on creating more job opportunities and more educational programs.  The system may not be able to absorb this latest cut.

Turning to our district and how it might make up the deficit, fortunately, our reserves of approximately $45 million are supple enough to provide the cushion we need at this time. With its vast reserves, the district is poised to weather this storm without much impact on students, faculty and staff, assuming that our leaders consider students’ interests first in whatever decisions they make.

The question is whether our leaders will make the right decisions and show necessary courage in deciding how to move forward.  Will the reserve be used for what it is really intended – as rainy day funds – or will students’ welfare be last on the priorities of our district?

The State Chancellor’s office requires districts to keep a reserve of 5 percent of its income in savings. Our district’s savings exceed 27 percent. Will the funds be used now that the community colleges are suffering an economic hurricane? We need to use the surplus for its intended purpose — to help the district coast through the storm and to preserve the integrity of our programs.

We cannot allow these state cuts to change the path of higher education in our district.  Now is the time to commit to investing in the students. We expect our leaders to think of students and the programs and classes they need to graduate as well as the community of faculty and staff.  The only purpose of money is to help people, not to sit in an account accruing interest while students’ dreams are deferred indefinitely.

Let us all commit to the promise of a better society in the upcoming years and to rebuilding our economy.

These things can only happen if students get the education they need and deserve.