Thursday, January 17, 2008
The timing couldn’t be worse for a ballot measure designed to give community colleges a dedicated funding stream. With a $14.5 billion deficit looming, California legislators will likely slash – not bolster – college programs as Proposition 92 would mandate. Supporters say, however, that the proposition would protect the 109-college system from state belt tightening.
“Proposition 92 provides a stable source of funding for community colleges,” says Rich Montori, public information officer for Monterey Peninsula College. But Montori admits “it’s going to be difficult for it to pass under the current fiscal conditions of the state.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a 10-percent cut for all state departments in an effort to rein in spending. This means community colleges would lose $40 million this fiscal year and $484 million in 2008-09.
Prop. 92, which is on the Feb. 5 ballot, would give community colleges a pot of money separate from K-12 schools. Funding increases would be based on growth in the young adult population and the state’s unemployment rate. The measure would result in an additional $300 million per year for K-14 education, according to the nonpartisan legislative analyst. MPC would receive another $2.6 million annually and Hartnell College would get $2.3 million, according to the Community College League of California.
Additionally, Prop. 92 would lower student fees from $20 per unit to $15 per unit, restrict the state’s ability to hike fees in the future, and increase the size of the community college’s board, giving it more administrative authority.
The proposition has received mixed support from the state’s biggest teachers unions, gaining backing from California Federation of Teachers but opposition from California Teachers Association. Additionally, the measure has created a rivalry between community colleges and the University of California and California State University systems. The universities don’t want to lose money that legislators would be required to dole out to community colleges.
Business groups, like the Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce, are also fighting the measure. “There is no mechanism in that proposition to find additional funds for community colleges,” says Chamber Chairman Luis Alvarez. “It just says, ‘Take the exact same pie and slice it so community colleges get more of that pie.’ That means somebody gets less of that pie.”
Hartnell Interim President Phoebe Helm argues that Prop. 92 would help the college balance its budget. Hartnell has a $1.3 million deficit this year and Helm is doing the work of two vice presidents to help fix the shortfall. But Helm doubts the proposition’s prospects.