The governing board of the Ventura County Community College District will decide tonight whether to undertake a study that could lead to dissolution of one of the county's three community colleges.
They also will discuss a board member's suggestion that one of the campuses be sold or leased to California State University as the nucleus of what could become the county's first major four-year institution.
Whatever their prospects for approval--which many observers view as dim--the dramatic measures reflect the perception of some board members that the district is mired in a fiscal crisis.
District officials, however, contend the problems are not that bad.
"We are not in a crisis," Chancellor Alfred Fernandez said this week. "Most districts in this state are in a similar position. Our reserves could be bigger, but the fiscal situation is not that critical."
Board President Julian Tarleton agreed. "I think there's a definite need for three community colleges," he said. "I think there are a number of economies, like joint warehousing and joint use of libraries, that we can address before closing a college."
Tonight's meeting at 7 at the District Administration Center, 71 Day Road, Ventura, comes nine days after board member Ruth Oren sparked a furor by suggesting that the five-member board hire a consultant to study the possibility of closing a campus.
"I am prepared and hope that two other trustees will join me in undertaking a study of this district with the view of reducing the district from three campuses to two," she said. "I think it is probably the only way this district can survive what faces us today and a terribly uncertain tomorrow."
No Campus Targeted
More than 27,000 students attend classes at the colleges in Ventura, Moorpark and Oxnard. Although Oren did not target a specific campus for closure, many students, faculty and district officials assumed she had Oxnard College in mind.
"Everyone assumed it would be the youngest college, which also has the smallest enrollment," district spokeswoman Cathy Garnica said.
Oxnard College President Ed Robings said he assumed it, too. He said Oren had raised the possibility of closing Oxnard in private discussions. Some students already were reconsidering their enrollments at Oxnard, he said, because it is rumored to be on the chopping block.
"It's like rumors that a bank is insolvent," he said. "They'll result in a run on the bank," whose solvency then crumbles.
Robings opposes any attempt to close the 12-year-old school, claiming that many of its 5,200 students lack the transportation to attend classes at the other two community colleges, as well as the money or grades to qualify for a college outside the county.
Drastic Measures Seen
But at least one board member in addition to Oren feels drastic measures may be necessary to shore up the district's finances.
"We're absolutely spending more than we have coming in," Tom Ely said. "It's a sure blueprint for bankruptcy."
Ely, a board member since 1979, blamed part of the financial problem on previous boards. Voters twice defeated proposals to fund Oxnard College, and when the district built it anyway, in 1975, officials "didn't have the guts" to levy the taxes required to operate it, he said.
Proposition 13 then eliminated its ability to do so, dooming the district to operate three colleges on a budget more appropriate for two, he said.
The district, whose operating budget is $50.4 million, has reserves of about $800,000.
To keep it from tottering, the district should, among other possibilities, investigate leasing or selling classroom space to Cal State, Ely said.
"I'm not saying it's necessarily viable," Ely said, "but I'm saying we shouldn't reject anything out of hand."
The university, which is choosing among three competing properties in Ventura and Oxnard, is to announce its choice of a Ventura County branch site Jan. 12.
Deputy CSU Provost Jack Smart declined to comment, saying he didn't know "how realistic the proposal is."