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Ventura County

Budget Cuts Outrage Local College Officials

Education: New fiscal plan eliminates funds for library supplies and building improvements. Gov. Davis calls plan 'responsible.'

July 29, 2001|ERIN TEXEIRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As word spread that Gov. Gray Davis' new state spending plan eliminates funding for building improvements and library supplies at community colleges statewide, local college officials reacted with outrage.

Although the overall community college budget grew slightly compared with last year, it was about $126 million less than was approved by the Legislature--and at least $118 million less than was proposed by the governor in January, according to Steve Boilard, a spokesman for the state office of legislative affairs.

Local educators were stunned.

"This is a disaster--it doesn't make sense," said Allan W. Jacobs, a board member representing Simi Valley and Moorpark for the Ventura Community College District. If the cuts are not reversed, "we would have to . . . cut programs and things before we could move ahead" next year, he said.

He said board members may appeal to legislators to ease the crunch.

The $103.3-billion state budget, which increased by nearly 2.5% over last year, is generally considered education-friendly because it increases spending for K-12 public campuses by 5%, prevents fee increases at colleges and universities and hikes funding for salaries of part-time teachers at community colleges.

But the budget shrank by about $500 million over what was approved by state legislators earlier this year--and 20% of those cuts came from community colleges.

A spokesman from Davis' office did not return phone calls Friday, but Davis, in a statement Thursday, called the budget "responsible . . . reliable. It hopes for the best but prepares for the worst."

Mike Gregoryk, deputy chancellor of the Ventura Community College District, also was angry about the cuts. "I think it's hugely irresponsible and detrimental to community colleges," he said.

Steven Arvizu, who retired in March as president of Oxnard College, said the cuts will hit poor students--those who most need a quality public education--hardest.

The cuts also will disproportionately affect minorities, said Arvizu, who is a board member of the San Antonio-based Hispanic Assn. of Colleges and Universities. Most Latino college students attend community colleges, and 60% of Oxnard College's students are Latino, he said.

"We're cutting in the wrong places," Arvizu said. "For California to be competitive, we have to have an educated population, and the community colleges are just $13 a unit. Why would you want to cut back on the budget of something that is the best buy in America?"

Arvizu said the library cuts mean a moratorium on book acquisition and computer upgrades.

"The library is basically the heart of an institution," he said.

The cuts came unexpectedly for educators and budget observers in Sacramento, Boilard said. The governor in May declined to increase spending on libraries or maintenance by $10 million each, as approved by the Legislature. But it was not until Thursday that he eliminated both $49-million budgets entirely.

"We were really surprised that he put as much of a cut in there," Boilard said. No funding in those areas, he said, will create a need for books, computers and building improvements in years to come.

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