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L.A. Colleges, Reacting to Money Woes, Alter Course

July 06, 1986|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

It has not been the best of times lately for the Los Angeles community colleges.

Still reeling from a series of budget-slashing decisions--laying off teaching and clerical employees and cutting back or closing about 30 programs--the district is looking ahead to the fall term, hoping for better news.

But there are some who say that when school opens in September, good news will be hard to find.

"My big concern," said Hal Fox, president of the teachers' union, "is that the loss of students . . . will be so great that no reorganization can recapture them."

To rebuild the badly depleted enrollment and ease the district's financial woes, the Board of Trustees has made a series of traumatic decisions in recent months.

The board has taken a number of steps to reorganize its educational priorities, including interdepartmental transfers of 100 tenured instructors in the nine-campus system.

$5-Million Emergency Loan

Last year, the district exhausted its reserve funds and needed a $5-million emergency loan from the county to meet its payroll. It was short of money because funding by the state is tied to enrollment, and the district has been losing students by the thousands.

Since 1981, enrollment has fallen by more than one-third, from 139,000 to about 88,000. Critics, particularly former students, cited several reasons for the decline: The imposition two years ago of a $50-per-semester tuition fee, long delays in obtaining financial aid, and the decision--recently reversed--to start the fall term in August instead of September.

This year, the budget has been balanced with lottery money and special state funds that go to districts with shrinking enrollments. There is even a modest reserve. But officials say they cannot depend on having those extra dollars next year, and will have to continue to "downsize" district operations.

The belt-tightening began in earnest last September, when the college district board voted to dismiss 53 clerical employees. Then, in February, the trustees approved the chancellor's request to lay off all part-time and 157 full-time tenured instructors who taught classes that district officials considered unnecessary.

Since then, the number of full-time teachers laid off has been whittled down to 39, primarily because most of the instructors were qualified to teach other subjects. According to state law, the district has to offer reassignment if an instructor has a credential to teach another discipline.

Staff Reduced

But the transfers and layoffs reduced the staff in 30 disciplines, particularly physical education and nursing. As a result, nursing at West Los Angeles and City colleges and several other vocational and technical programs will be phased out after next year, and a number of athletic programs are in jeopardy. Social sciences, notably history and anthropology, also were hard-hit by faculty losses.

According to longtime district employees, hostility toward the board and top administration reached an all-time high after the unprecedented faculty layoffs were announced. Students and employees staged protest rallies at several campuses and at the board's plush downtown headquarters. One college broke with tradition by not inviting a trustee to commencement ceremonies in June, while the entire faculty at another campus literally turned their backs on a trustee who was delivering a graduation message.

Scare Away Students

Critics of the various reductions fear the worst in September--namely, that the cuts will scare away more students.

Teachers' union President Fox said that since 1982, 612 instructors have either retired or quit and have not been replaced. Thus, the faculty has declined 25% through attrition, he noted. Because the enrollment has shrunk at about the same rate as the faculty, Fox said he fears that the recent cuts will only prolong the downward trend.

"The assumption of the district is that . . . students will bunch up in the remaining classes. But that is not our experience," he said.

Linda Escajeda, an East Los Angeles College student who recently joined the board as a student trustee, said she knows of five students who left the district out of frustration last fall. One enrolled at Pasadena City College, she said, while the other four decided to attend Rio Hondo College in Whittier.

Teacher Morale Drops

"They transferred right after Christmas," Escajeda said. "With the cutting of faculty and classes, students are going to take their $50 and go somewhere where those problems don't exist."

The students who have remained may encounter a demoralized teaching staff, others said.

"Our morale has been going down like an elevator, very fast," said Bob Kort, who teaches psychology at Los Angeles City College. Not only are instructors disturbed by the plummeting enrollment and worried that more layoffs may be ordered, but he said they resent the general deterioration of their working conditions.

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