It was mighty grim. The passage of Proposition 30, albeit important, will make little difference to the situation.
Essentially, the problem is that college revenue will be flat but college expenses will rise, in part owing to unfunded mandates. As things now stand, starting in a year or two, expenses will exceed revenue, and the problem will worsen with each passing year in all possible scenarios.
This is so despite the SOCCCD’s unusual and lucrative funding arrangement—the oddly termed "basic aid"—which takes local property taxes (rather than state funds) and that, owing to high local property values, has provided the district with an unusually high level of funding compared to virtually all other community college districts in the state.
The upshot: unless we take steps, we’ll soon be into deficit spending.
Just how dire is this situation in which we find ourselves?, I asked.
"Very," said Bob, based on what he saw at the aforementioned meeting.
Naturally, many colleges across the state—those whose funding source is Sacramento—have already experienced serious budget shortfalls combined with increased expenses. We asked: what have those colleges done to meet their budgetary crises?
In the case of community colleges, a vast majority of revenue—well over 90%—goes to faculty salaries and benefits. Insofar as that expenditure remains untouched (faculty salaries and benefits are a product of negotiations between districts and faculty unions), our colleges are left with a relatively small zone for cost savings or greater efficiencies.
It is clear that two groups will likely take a big hit: classified employees (non-instructional, non-administrative) and part-time instructors, the slave labor of the community college system. Some institutions have essentially let go all of their adjuncts.
I asked whether Saddleback College faces similar dire straights.
It does. (The president of the SC academic senate was in the room, joining the discussion.)
I noted that, as someone who attends virtually all meetings of the SOCCCD board of trustees, I could not recall any mention of this looming crisis before the trustees.
Well, no, they have not been informed, I was told. The problem has until now been a topic of discussion among college administrators.
So, there it is. Predictably, we (i.e., faculty) were encouraged to help develop ways to increase revenue and reduce costs. If the colleges don't find ways of doing this by themselves, we were told, relatively crude and unwelcome measures will be applied from without.
* * *
These funds, from an account comprising a little over $60K, are typically used to pay for expenses associated with attending conferences (meetings of the American Historical Association—that sort of thing), a routine activity among many serious college educators.
I and other senators opined that, especially under the circumstances, it would be unseemly to reduce part-timers’ conference funding.
In the end, the recommendation was soundly rejected, returning us to last year's caps. (This, I think, is the best that we could do. I do not believe there was any prospect of overturning the customary wide discrepancy between full- and part-time funding.)
To adjuncts, that will provide little comfort, I’m sure.
But it’s something.
Everybody, fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy ride.