Volume 44, Number 3 - March/April 2009
Faculty must be vigilant
By Alan Frey
CCA staff consultant
Midway through the fiscal year for community colleges, a revised budget was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor which, although not as good as the past two years, spared the community colleges the devastation imposed on the K-12, CSU and UC systems.
The new budget effectively only cut the .68% COLA of $39.8 million and deferred $540 million to be repaid on July 1. With reduced monthly allowances from the state, most districts should be able to withstand the reductions without having to borrow to meet expenses.
Salary increases are likely to be nonexistent or, in some districts, proposed cuts will be presented at the bargaining table.
In this piece I’d like to examine the impacts of the cuts and perhaps predict what the various community colleges will do to address their shortfalls.
First in the line of fire
First in the line of fire for cuts, will be in the areas of compensation and fringe benefits. This is where most district managements will try to save large amounts of money. It is a logical starting point as the average community college devotes 80 percent or more of its expenditures on people. Clearly this is an area where the management will see the greatest opportunity to slash expenditures. Salary increases are likely to be nonexistent or, in some districts, proposed cuts will be presented at the bargaining table. Gains made in previous years will be in jeopardy as districts look for ways to trim expenses. It is also likely that management groups will be seeking relaxation or the more draconian route of elimination of the 50 percent law, which “supposedly” mandates that 50 percent of a college’s budget go toward faculty. Coupled with this approach will be an attempt to scale back the expenditures on faculty and staff fringe benefits either through reductions in premiums by offering less comprehensive programs or in a renewed attempt at instituting co-pays by employees. Fortunately for both faculty and staff, districts will be somewhat restrained in this approach by the government code that requires collective bargaining on wages, hours and working conditions.
The approach mentioned above raises the logical question of whether the assault will be limited to faculty and staff, or whether management and trustees will be subject to commensurate cutbacks. As most faculty are aware, the vast majority of community college trustees accept both pay and benefits for their service. Our old adage of what is good for the goose will apply now more than ever.
Cutbacks to classes
Second in line for cutbacks will be the number and availability of class offerings. This will entail both cutbacks to classes that traditionally have low enrollment as well as the more onerous approach of selective elimination of programs directed by faculty who are viewed with disdain by the powers that be.
In areas where there is low enrollment, districts need to be aware of the downsides of eliminating class sections. In years past, some districts eliminated massive numbers of classes without realizing that only students in classrooms generate income for a district. Eliminate classes, eliminates income. (For this purpose CCA has developed a template for local associations to use that calculates an approximate break-even point for class validity. Taking the salary paid to the faculty member and the proportional income for each student in a class the calculator renders a number of students where a district breaks even on costs to offer the class. More students generate profits, fewer students generate losses.)
In the additional aspect of cutting class offerings, districts will explore faculty layoffs most likely through the elimination of particular kinds of service. While part-time faculty are the first in the pecking order for layoffs, some districts will view the budget disaster as an opportunity to rid themselves of full time faculty that they perceive are problematic.
Our old adage of what is good for the goose will apply now more than ever.
(A layoff is less hassle for a district than a dismissal for cause.) This is the most mischievous approach a district may take because by cutting classes, they are eliminating faculty. By eliminating specific class offerings the nexus to eliminating specific staff ensues.
Some years back one of the colleges determined it wanted the classroom space occupied by faculty who were limited by the number of stations for students in a particular kind of service. The district answer was to lay off the two faculty members by eliminating their program hence freeing up the classrooms for larger classes. Beware of this approach.
Finally while there are potentially other cuts districts will make, faculty should be vigilant in assessing what the impacts will be not only on our peers but on the students.
We have long been told by district management that district reserves have grown exponentially to prepare for budget crises. Now it is time for the districts to put their money (reserves) where their mouths have been. It will be interesting to see whether the reserves are truly, as management has maintained, to be used in times like these. We will see.
Related Tags: Benefits, Budget, Collective bargaining, Higher Education, Financial, Lawmaker, Layoffs, Legislation, News, Part time, Salary, Teacher,