Despite looming budget cuts, GCCCD puts on happy face–and feet

EL CAJON – Almost 30,000 students started a new semester of classes Monday at East County’s two community colleges as officials with the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District awaitde news about state budget cuts that could be devastating for the two schools. More than 19,500 students were expected at Grossmont College in El Cajon, a 1.7 percent increase from the spring 2010 semester. Almost 10,000 students were to attendCuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego, a 9.2 percent increase from the same time a year ago.

Governing Board President Bill Garrett told faculty and staff that the board’s goal is to provide a top-flight education despite the state’s budget problems. “We’re committed to doing what we need to do to serve the residents of East County,” Garrett said. California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a state budget that would cut $400 million from the state’s community colleges. The Grossmont-Cuyamaca district would face a $4.5 million budget cut – and that’s the best-case scenario. Brown wants to place a measure on the June ballot that would extend temporary state sales and income taxes. If that measure is rejected by voters, the college district’s budget cut could increase to $12 million.

Brown has also proposed raising community college student fees by $10 per credit hour, from $26 to $36, beginning in the fall semester. That would mean a student taking 15 credit hours would pay an additional $300 per year. The Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District has already taken heavy cuts in its budget in the past two years. The 2010-11 budget was cut by $15 million, even more than the $10 million the previous year. More than 1,000 course sections have been eliminated and the colleges have 60 fewer full-time employees than in 2008. Despite the dire news, senior administrators and all five Governing Board members welcomed employees to the new term with optimism and a bit of laughing yoga to ease the stress about the budget uncertainties.

Chancellor Cindy Miles said the district is moving forward with professional development activities, strengthening the role of its classified staff, educational master planning, and initiatives aimed at enhancing fundraising efforts and student success. “There are lots of good things happening this spring despite our challenges,” Miles said.

Grossmont College’s convocation last Tuesday was held in the gym because the college’s Student Center is still under construction. Those attending were asked to wear slippers to protect the refinished gym floor, and employees showed up wearing footwear with balloons, dinosaur feet, Oscar statues, Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.

Grossmont College President Sunny Cooke noted that a yearlong celebration is beginning of the 50th anniversary of Grossmont College, where classes were first held in September 1961. At Cuyamaca College’s convocation on Wednesday, interim College President Robert Garber told faculty and staff that more students than ever were clamoring to get into classes. He said he is approaching the budget problems with a positive attitude, even as he is not hopeful that the fiscal situation will improve. “We need to find a way to remain optimistic and look at the positive side of what we do,” Garber said. “We can’t just stop because this is a bad time. We’re in the business of changing lives.”

Preceding provided by Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District