Budget & Policy: A Boiling Stew for Community College—By Dean Murakami

Budget & Policy: A Boiling Stew for Community College

By Dean Murakami

Photo Credit: Jane Hundertmark

Photo Credit: Jane Hundertmark

I was recently up in Rocklin visiting Congress member Tom McClintock’s office.  I was there to explain to his staff the effect of sequestration on public education funding in California.  At a time when we had finally stopped the budget deficits and annual cuts to public education with the passage of Proposition 30, the federal cuts caused by sequestration would impose an additional 5% cut to education.  Many of the cuts caused by sequestration are federally mandated programs, so we are obligated to fully fund those programs even when there is a shortfall in federal funding.  That means we would have to divert funds from our state funds (including what would have gone to the faculty bucket) to backfill the federal programs.  Eventually the staff mentioned that McClintock opposed Proposition 30 and that the tax measure would not solve the budget problems in California.  I told them that Proposition 30 was not intended to completely solve the funding crisis in California, and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) was careful not to say it would.  At CFT we discussed that when the lottery passed in California people assumed that the public education funding problem was over.  We explicitly said we could not afford for the public to make that mistaken assumption again with Proposition 30.

So let’s make it perfectly clear, Proposition 30 will not restore funding back to the 2008-09 levels, we can’t restore the classes cut the past 4 years that has resulted in the loss of 600,000 community college students, that our faculty bucket still requires us to use district reserves, and there will be no big retro check this year.  In addition, with the passage of Proposition 30 all the projections indicate there will be a very small revenue surplus this year that will slightly increase over the next seven years until Proposition 30 sunsets.  We will in all likelihood need to find an alternative funding mechanism if we are going to keep pace with education ends of our community.

We have been working with CFT and the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) to lobby the legislature on the 2013-14 budget.  While we are happy with the overall budget numbers we have talked with the Governor and have been working with the budget committees in the Assembly & Senate to make changes and correct policy issues.  The four high priority policy issues are obvious.  1.  Community Colleges taking over Adult Education.  This has been defeated in a bipartisan unanimous vote by the Assembly Budget Committee chaired by a good friend to community colleges Assembly member Susan Bonilla.  She was recently named FACCC’s Legislator of the Year.  The Governor’s office may bring it back in another form, but there does not seem to be enough support in the legislature.  2. Performance Based Funding.  The Governor proposed that a portion of community college revenues would be based on course completion rather than by census date.  He mentions that the districts would not lose any funding since it would be redirected into categorical programs that would help students be more successful.  While he seems to understand that poverty is one of the primary factors leading to student success, he doesn’t seem to get that this funding model only serves to punish districts that serve poor and under-represented student populations.   In addition, a careful reading of the budget language clearly states that districts can lose funding that was redirected into categorical programs.  So far we have been successful getting legislators to oppose this proposal.  3.  90 unit cap of state subsidy for students.  A similar unit cap has been proposed for California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) students as well.  You can imagine the opposition by college students to this proposal.  All of higher education is opposed to this proposal and it is difficult for me to see it passing the legislature.  4.  Online Education.  The Governor sees online education as one of the breakthroughs to address the access issue in higher education.  He seems to have caught the Massive Open Online Education (MOOC) fever along with Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg who proposed SB 520.  While the legislature and other education reform groups have complained of our graduation and completion rates, those same groups laud the introduction of MOOCs into higher education.  All of a sudden completion rates (MOOC’s are about 10%) are no longer an issue.  Also, handing over our online education programs to a private entity (e.g.Udacity or Coursera) would eliminate local Academic Senate control, staffing, and oversight of those courses.  In addition, faculty would lose all intellectual property rights of their material.  We are meeting with Darrell Steinberg on these issues, and my preliminary conversation with him is that he knows there are serious problems and opposition to SB 520.  As a matter of fact his office did not consult with any faculty group before proposing SB 520, and I did not receive notice that anything like this bill was being contemplated until the morning just before they had a press conference that day.  I hope that Senator Steinberg does not forget to seek faculty input before proposing a bill like this again.

During the annual FACCC Advocacy & Policy Conference faculty & students lobbied together at the Capitol on these same issues.  At the conference we trained faculty and students on the talking points and the lobbying process.  I was particularly impressed with the Los Rios students that came with me to visit the offices of Richard Pan, Roger Dickinson, and Mariko Yamada.  The students were well prepared, well spoken, to the point, and had compelling stories to tell.  All of you would have been very proud that day.  It was a wonderful learning experience for the students and I hope this will encourage you and your students to attend the conference next year.

We have been lobbying the legislature to reprioritize funds out of deferrals and adult education to fund COLA, restoration (i.e. growth for additional classes), and categorical programs.  The Governor has proposed $179 million to buy down deferrals, in his words the “wall of debt.”  While we agree that the deferrals should be eliminated over time, all that is needed is $115 million each year for the next seven years (the life of Prop 30) to eliminate all of the $801 million in deferrals. That means that $64 million could be redirected into COLA, restoration, and/or categorical programs.  In addition, there is $300 million in Adult Education that will not be used this year, redirecting those funds would be very useful.  Unfortunately, it seems the Governor wants to redirect the Adult Education funds from community colleges to K-14.

In my discussions with the district we both agree that COLA is long overdue.  That is why it is with great consternation that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) has just required districts to report whether they have negotiated a COLA to employee groups above the statutory COLA (1.66%).  I’m not sure why the ACCJC needs to get into this collective bargaining issue, or why it seems to want to direct COLA limits for districts in collective bargaining, especially when it is not relevant to determine the fiscal solvency of the district.  As a matter of fact since our COLA has been virtually unfunded since 2008, COLA (your paycheck) is about 12% short of where it should be.   So why wouldn’t a district want to negotiate a COLA above 1.66% if there are extra funds available?

Lastly, while I remain the President of the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers (LRCFT), in July I will become the President of FACCC.  I have worked closely with FACCC over the past several years as Vice President and President-elect.  LRCFT and FACCC have done great work together lobbying and FACCC has been the co-sponsor of our Benefits Conference every year.  April is the month of the FACCC elections, so if you see a Los Rios candidate running for the FACCC Board please vote for them (Collete Harris-Mathews & Kristine Fertel).  If you are not a member of FACCC I highly encourage you to join (http://www.faccc.org/).  If you decide to join please let me know, I can get you a free gas card ($75 for full time, $25 for part time faculty).

Thanks for all of your support and the work you do in Los Rios.