Miles outlines possible budget cut scenarios

Chancellor Cindy

Editor’s Note:  Chancellor Cindy Miles sent this letter by email last week to faculty and staff of Grossmont College and Cuyamaca College.  She gave permission for us to reprint it, noting, however, that “there’s a bigger story to tell to students to help them prepare. We’re convening a group to develop a communication plan to help students understand and cope with what is coming.”

 L.  Miles

EL CAJON–Dear Colleagues…As we keep a close eye on what’s happening in Sacramento, the lyrics to a Tom Petty song come to mind: “The waiting is the hardest part.” Until we know what’s happening with the state budget, our planning is filled with ambiguities and what-ifs. We must prepare for everything from a merely terrible budget to making devastating cuts.

In the last couple of weeks, it’s been an “up one day, down the next” rollercoaster of rising and falling hopes for the state budget. Gov. Jerry Brown is still trying to break the budget impasse and garner the handful of remaining votes he needs to place the question of tax extensions on a June ballot. We hope voters will be allowed to decide on the future of their state, but it remains unclear whether that’s going to happen.

Once we know about the fate of the tax extension, we can sharpen our focus on what we need to do to remain viable for the future. Until the Legislature votes, I urge you to redouble your efforts to contact lawmakers and let them know your feelings about the state budget. 

Let’s review what we know and what we don’t.

We know for sure that our students will suffer. Today (March 24), Gov. Brown signed 13 bills to reduce California’s $26.6 billion budget deficit, among them a bill cutting $400 million from the state’s community colleges – our share is a cut of nearly $5 million. Students will be paying $36 per credit unit instead of $26.  Classes will be scarcer and even harder to get into. 

Even with today’s action, we still don’t know our full budget picture. Today’s bills represent only half the equation. Governor Brown says that much, much deeper cuts to core services like education and public safety will have to be made if the tax extension is not approved. 

We know that even with a tax extension, we will be facing the toughest times in our history. Without the extension, we’ll be forced to make gut-wrenching choices to remain viable for the future. 

We simply don’t know how much money we will get next year or how much deeper we’ll have to cut in classes and services. Imagine trying to pay your bills without knowing how much will be in your checking account. That’s what we are grappling with as we build a 2011-12 budget amidst all the political machinations going on in Sacramento.

We know we can no longer depend on the state for reliable funding. With added payment deferrals in the bills passed today, we don’t know when we’ll get even the few dollars promised.  That’s why we must maintain money in our reserves so we can pay monthly bills like our payroll expenses (currently about $7 million per month). We didn’t get funding for 2010-11 until the end of October – not to mention that the state has come back for the last two years and reduced our prior year’s funding even after the year ended!

We know we must assume the worst while hoping for a monetary miracle.

So, while we know that we are dealing with the worst budget ever, let me again reassure you that we have no plans for layoffs and we are not considering this option as we work with our budget councils and employee groups to solve our problems. Even in a worst-case scenario, we would call on our employees to help develop solutions to share the pain of cost-cutting with our students.

We remain wholly committed to protecting our students and employees to the utmost of our abilities. Thanks to our Governing Board’s frugal management and fiscal stewardship, we are in a stronger position than most.

Through our shared governance processes, we’ve been preparing for all possibilities in this uncertain time. Next Monday (March 28), our Districtwide Strategic Planning & Budget Council (DSP&BC) will meet again – this time to define the direction for our 2011-12 Tentative Budget. We can’t wait any longer for the state to act. We’ll plan conservatively and lobby aggressively for a better outcome.

Following are some of the initial budget solutions that DSP&BC has already developed for the three most likely funding scenarios:

A)    The tax extension gets on the ballot and is approved by voters ($4.6 million cut)

·         Cut more than 600 class sections (approximately 3,500 students turned away)*

·         Hold vacant positions open except for critical hires

·         Reduce services provided by non-contract employees

·         Reduce benefits costs by $250,000

·         Reduce supply purchases

B)    No tax extension, Prop. 98 funding remains ($8.1 million cut)

·         Cut almost 800 class sections (approximately 5,000 students turned away)*

·         Drastically reduce hiring for open positions

·         Drastically cut annual maintenance, facilities repairs, program initiatives

·         Drastically reduce supply purchases

·         Reduce benefits costs by $500,000

C)     No tax extension, Prop. 98 funding suspended ($12.9 million cut)

·         Cut more than 1,000 classes (approximately 8,000 students turned away)*

·         Freeze all but mandated positions

·         Freeze all accounts immediately

·         Stop supply purchases for all but indispensable items

·         Reduce benefits costs by $1 million

·         Work with employee groups to identify “fair share” solutions

*on top of the 1,000 courses we’ve already cut over the last 2 years

In addition, other recommendations already brought forward by employees that are being considered include such items as instituting voluntary furloughs, voluntary contribution of large-class bonuses, cutting summer school, and closing nonessential facilities. These and other solutions will be discussed Monday by DSP&BC. If you have other ideas, please speak to your representative on the council or send them directly to us via the Budget Suggestion Box ([email protected]).

As always, we remain committed to our valued students and employees, and we will keep seeking ways to provide the best education possible with increasingly limited resources. I pledge to you that we will reach our decisions in a collegial and transparent way, and I will keep you informed every step along this tortuous journey.  We’ll get through this together.

Miles is chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community  College District