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[whitespace] State budget vetoes impact community college funding

Saratoga--West Valley-Mission Community College District officials hope they won't have to fix any leaky roofs during the 2001-2002 school year. On July 26, Gov. Gray Davis cut all funds that went toward community college deferred maintenance.

To balance a state budget squeezed by the energy crisis and economic downturn, Davis vetoed $126 million that the Legislature had approved for the state's 108 community colleges. What stung community college districts the most was the $98 million in cuts to deferred maintenance and instructional equipment. This means districts have no longer have money for either funding category.

"It was just a shock," said West Valley-Mission district Chancellor Linda Salter. "We were all stunned by it."

District officials plan not to purchase instructional equipment for the 2001-2002 school year. They also plan to postpone maintenance on West Valley and Mission Colleges until 2002-2003. At West Valley, two buildings were supposed to be re-roofed, and three were supposed to have heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems repaired. The district lost $688,246.00 for instructional equipment, and $918,450.00 for maintenance.

Funds for the new math/science complex at Mission are still in the district's budget, and construction on the complex is scheduled to begin in October. However, district officials have decided not to start any other construction projects, Vice Chancellor Steve Kinsella said. He added that the district has postponed remodeling the third floor at Mission.

Instructors can't train students properly without modern instructional equipment, Salter said. She added that a lack of modern equipment would deter companies from hiring community college students.

Salter was disappointed by the deferred maintenance cuts because they will affect more than just the 2001-2002 school year, she said. When buildings aren't maintained regularly, they eventually need patchwork, which costs more. To pay for patchwork, the district would have to dip into its operations money, which comes from property taxes. Operations money funds the district's day-to-day operations, from salaries to supplies to electric bills. If the district used too much of this money for maintenance, officials may decide to cut classes and turn students away, Salter said.

Community colleges had gotten money for instructional equipment and deferred maintenance for decades. It was ironic that Davis cut money for both categories, Salter said, because the $49 million that community colleges had received for each was barely enough.

Community college officials had discussed with state officials about the need for more instructional equipment and deferred maintenance funds. But in May, Davis vetoed spending an additional $10 million on each category.

Salter said that when he cut both categories two months later, "it was kind of like the final slap in the face."

Scott Lay, director of state budget issues for the Community College League of California, said he understood the vetoes, but not the disproportionate cuts to community colleges. Davis vetoed $554 million of a $103 billion state budget. The Legislature had designated $126 million, or 23 percent of the $554 million, for community colleges, and $160 million for all higher education. Community colleges normally get 5 percent of the budget, Lay said.

Salter said that community colleges were already underfunded, compared to state schools and universities. According to Salter, community colleges in California have three times as many students as the California State University and University of California systems put together.

Community colleges are mounting campaigns to regain the $98 million for deferred maintenance and instructional equipment. The community college league is planning a meeting between "as many Legislators as possible," Salter said, and local community college officials.

Lay said Legislators have expressed interest in authoring a bill that would restore the $98 million. The Legislature reconvenes Aug. 20 and will have until Sept. 14 to pass bills. Davis will have until Oct. 14 to approve or veto them.

Davis said he was open to reconsidering funds going to community colleges when the economy improved.

Despite the cuts, the community college budget grew by 3.2 percent since last year. Community colleges will receive $57 million to pay part-time instructors higher salaries, and $4.7 million to fund those instructors' office hours.

Salter said the money was an "absolute necessity." Part-time instructors' salaries were disproportionately low, she said, and the increase was only the first step in correcting a problem that would take several years of special funding to solve.

Funds for UCs increased by 5.3 percent, while money for Cal State schools increased by 5.8 percent. The budget as a whole, which increased by nearly 2.5 percent, prevents increases in college and university students' fees, and increases spending for K through 12 schools.
By Rebecca Ray

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