State’s ‘shenanigans’ burden RSCCD budget

News analysis

The Board of Trustees earlier this month approved the district’s budget under the shadow of a series of controversial moves by the state legislature that will significantly reduce community college funding.

State legislators bypassed the required two-thirds majority to freeze Proposition 98, which guarantees minimum funding for K through 14 schools, and that includes California’s community colleges.

The board voted to approve the budget despite the state legislature’s accounting “shenanigans,” said Peter Hardash, vice chancellor of business operations and fiscal services. The state, he said, intentionally overstated revenues and understated costs to ensure the budget passed on time.

Costs and revenues weren’t the only stats the state skewed, Hardash said.

Because of the state’s shortfall, the Trustees faced other challenges while considering their budget. In addition to the suspension of Prop 98, there is no allotment for a Cost of Living Analysis for the fourth year in a row. The district faces $290 million in cuts for the 2011 to 2012 fiscal year.

The budget includes a 6.2 percent workload reduction, or “negative growth,” as Hardash called it, which means cuts to classes and programs at Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College. Workload reductions are part of the reason tuition was raised from $26 to $36 per unit this fall. With more reductions, the increases could be more severe.

The state has also issued $961 million in deferrals, $24.1 million of which will come to the RSCCD.  Deferrals work like IOU’s for the previous fiscal year’s revenue growth, creating a cash flow problem for schools every fall.

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The state’s budget also includes two “triggers” that would force schools to make more cuts. The District’s budget is prepared for trigger one, which would bring an additional $1 million in cuts. Trigger two, if implemented, would bring an additional 1.5 percent in workload reduction.

Trustee John Hanna urged students to be more assertive in objecting to state policies that result in tuition increases. “In the 1960s we made a commitment,” said Hanna, “to keep tuition low, to make California competitive, and to put out a better educated workforce.”

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