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Poor Health

Funding of new SRJC building raises budget questions

By Bruce Robinson

AS THE CASE of the anonymous letters moves toward federal court, a new campus controversy is brewing over the construction and financing of a new $32 million Health Sciences building.

"Even when the board approved it, they did so with some misgivings," says Marco Giordano, an Academic Senate member who has been a vocal public critic of the SRJC administration. "And it was done over the vocal objections of the faculty."

Not only was the three-story, 38,500-square-foot Heath Sciences building rushed into the school's development plans, but the $25 million construction loan is being repaid out of the school's annual operating budget, to the tune of $320,000 per year, rather than from a capital improvements account. That, in turn, has meant "a 20 percent cut in [course] sections across campus," Giordano says with exasperation.

"This isn't service to students--to cut sections because you're having to economize because of how they had to budget the cost of the new Health Sciences building."

Other pointed questions are being raised as a result. "Do we need a big building? Should it be paid from operating funds?" asks Marty Bennett, another administration gadfly. "Why not wait and seek state matching funds, and why not use reserve funds?"

The reserve is a particularly sensitive issue. The college's cash reserves are believed to represent more than 15 percent of the school's budget, far more than the 5 percent suggested by state guidelines. "It's way out of whack with what the state requires, enormously controversial in the institution," Bennett asserts. "Why save these reserves for a rainy day that never comes and a sky that never falls?"

An editorial in the Oct. 30 edition of the Oak Leaf, the college newspaper, suggested that the college instead could have financed the construction of the new building by selling off a vacant 13.76-acre parcel it owns in southwest Santa Rosa, land that has recently been annexed into the city and zoned for residential development.

Bennett, unhappy also about the school's growing imbalance between the number of full-time and tenured teachers and the increase in part-time instructors, views the handling of the Health Sciences building and its costs as one more example of "administrative autocracy" by SRJC President Robert Agrella and the current board of trustees. "They're more than willing to spend the money on buildings and structures," Bennett objects, "but when it comes to full-time staff, they're not ready to spend."

"It just highlights another issue we have here, which is resource allocation and how it happens," says Carol Wolfe, coordinator of the campus copy center. "If budgets are cut to provide resources for a building that [department heads and faculty] had no way of providing input into, they are going to be kicking and screaming. And that's what's happening."

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From the Nov. 20-26, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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