District Prepares For Possible Budget Shortfall

Randy Pench /Sacramento Bee/ MCT

A continuing decline in enrollment and a possible economic downturn may leave Santa Ana College underfunded by 2020, officials said. Combined with a sharp increase in Rancho Santiago Community College District’s required contributions to employee retirement systems, it’s a dramatic hit, Trustee Phillip Yarborough said.

“There has been a sense of urgency but not a sense of panic,” Chancellor Raul Rodriguez said during last week’s RSCCD board meeting.

Yarbrough, who taught economics at both SAC and Santiago Canyon College, is vocal about the problems the school will face especially if it’s unable to increase enrollment.

Enrollment at SAC has declined over the last two years.

“If there’s no enrollment growth, whether we have an expansionary economy or a recession doesn’t matter,” Yarborough said. “If there’s no growth in enrollment and we have the [retirement contributions] that we’re expecting, we’ll be upside down $20 million in the next four years.”

Despite the projected shortfall, Vice President of Administrative Services Michael Collins said no classes are being cut for fall 2017. The college will utilize a portion of its contingency reserve to cover half of the deficit, with ongoing budget reductions covering the remaining $1.1 million. It is unclear if classes will need to be cut for future fiscal years.

“It’s very bottom line,” said Yarborough. “We have to run these colleges like a business and there are some courses that cost a lot of money and don’t bring nothing in and there’s other courses that bring a ton of money and don’t cost us a lot.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s May revision to the state budget will give the district an additional $4 million in unrestricted base funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.  

“This will help the district with the ever-increasing costs of retirement benefits the district pays on behalf of our employees,” said Peter Hardash, vice chancellor for business operations and fiscal services. “There are several other more minor adjustments to our budget the governor is proposing, however, those pale in comparison to the much needed $4 million increase in base funding.”

Despite the May revision supplying about $2.5 billion more for the state overall, Gov. Brown predicts the next economic downturn is just around the corner.

“If there’s no more money coming in from the state government, then by this time next year Peter [says we will know when things are going to start getting bad],” Yarborough said.

According to Community College Review, a website providing free, detailed profiles of community colleges across the country, there will be a series of reduction of services, larger class sizes and longer wait lists for the most in-demand courses. The primary loser in this situation will be the students, although numerous faculty members will find themselves without their jobs as well.

“My biggest worry is that we will be insolvent in 18 months, approximately. We won’t have enough for their expenses and then we’ll have to make snap judgments on what we’re going to cut, said Yarborough. “And I have to make sure that if that happens it impacts students as little as possible.”