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Colleges Hunt for More Savings

Ventura County district, after avoiding faculty layoffs, turns to nonteachers for ways to close a budget gap.

May 15, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

After sidestepping faculty layoffs, Ventura County Community College District officials are now working with nonteaching staff and other employee groups to find millions of dollars in additional budget cuts.

The district's board of trustees this week rescinded layoff notices sent to 400 full-time faculty members after reaching an agreement with their union that calls for one-year salary rollbacks and benefit concessions that could save more than $5.8 million.

Now the district wants the classified employees' union and other workers to agree to similar cost-saving measures to help close the remainder of the budget shortfall, now expected to be less than the projected $13.8 million.

Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday revised his proposed budget for community colleges for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Earlier, he warned that the state budget crisis would force cuts of more than $530 million next year.

But the governor was able to restore nearly $246 million in anticipated funding, so the statewide cuts are now estimated at $285 million.

"The good news is that it's not as bad as we thought; the bad news is it's still really bad," said Greg Cross, senior field representative for Service Employees International Union Local 535, which represents 540 of the district's classified, or nonteaching, employees.

School officials agreed that the district, which includes Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura colleges, stills has a tough road ahead. The system serves about 30,000 full- and part-time students.

"We're still going to be losing a lot of money," said board Vice President Cheryl Heitmann. "Is it going to get dramatically better? Probably not. I think all community colleges are going to be faced with looking at some serious cutbacks."

Heitmann and board President Art Hernandez said they are concerned Davis wants to raise tuition from $11 per unit to $18, the first fee hike for the state's two-year schools in a decade.

"Community colleges have already taken more than their share of the burden" of eliminating the state's projected budget shortfall of up to $35 billion, Hernandez said.

Though community college tuition remains a bargain compared with the cost of attending a University of California or California State University campus, the fee hike -- about $210 annually for a full-time student -- could cause problems for low-income students, said Deputy Chancellor Mike Gregoryk.

"It's not a huge amount in total, but it's ... going to be a significant increase for those students who don't have it," said Gregoryk, whose staff is analyzing the revised state numbers to determine the exact size of the district's budget gap.

Cross said Local 535 is scheduled to meet with district officials next Thursdayfor what he described as a final bargaining session to determine what combination of retirement incentives, reduced hours, staff reductions and benefit concessions are needed to cover his members' share of the shortfall.

If no agreement can be reached, Cross said the district has suggested it may lay off 30 additional classified employees; three have already lost their jobs.

Though a final number won't be known until the budget is approved, SEIU negotiators have tried to devise $3 million to $4 million in cuts, which Cross said could mean up to 10% in reduced salary and benefits for his members, who make an average of $35,000 a year.

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