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District May Reduce Staff, Classes

Officials with Ventura County's community colleges say the moves could be necessary to address budget gaps this year and next.

March 08, 2005|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Facing a $1.6-million budget gap this fiscal year and a $6-million shortfall next year, Ventura County Community College District officials are considering laying off instructors, eliminating or reducing nearly two dozen academic programs and shutting down cafeteria services at all three campuses.

Scores of students and faculty are expected to turn out this evening at the district's board meeting in Oxnard to protest the proposed cuts, some of the deepest in recent memory.

District officials said the budget deficits are driven largely by declining enrollment at the campuses in Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura. Districtwide, enrollment has gone from 36,135 in the spring semester of 2003 to 32,182 this semester -- an 11% drop, attributed in large part to state budget cuts and increases in student fees.

"We have been trying to keep most of the cuts away from the classroom," said Ray Di Guilio, vice president of business services at Moorpark College.

Officials at the campus have been scrambling to shave $462,000 from this year's budget while laying plans to slash nearly $2 million next year.

"This has been an excruciatingly tedious and, to a certain degree, painful process," Di Guilio said. "We are into building programs, not decimating them."

District personnel stand to be hardest hit. In addition to laying off cooks and custodians, the district has proposed eliminating the equivalent of about 40 full-time teaching and counseling positions.

The majority of those would be part-time employees.

However, under the cost-cutting scenario set for review tonight by the Board of Trustees, full-time Oxnard College journalism instructor Toni Allen would be reassigned to Moorpark College and see her hours cut by two-thirds, resulting in a loss of medical benefits.

Since she is the lone member of the school's journalism department, she said her reassignment would effectively kill that program.

She also oversees production of the campus newspaper, so her departure would end that endeavor as well.

"I have a group of students who are committed to journalism, and now they won't have anywhere to go," said Allen, a 1994 Oxnard College graduate and former editor of the campus newspaper.

"Budget cuts shouldn't be an issue when you're looking at something like a campus newspaper," she said. "I really think they can look for cuts elsewhere, rather than taking away the students' voice."

But community college trustee Art Hernandez said that after years of trying to shield academic programs from cuts, district officials were left with few options.

The district's core academic programs are safe, Hernandez said.

But he said the district has been forced to examine reducing or eliminating programs that cost money rather than generate money.

District officials have proposed cuts to programs, including electronics, theater arts and foreign language instruction.

"When things get this tight and we've cut everything else we can, we have to start looking at cutting programs," Hernandez said. "Unfortunately, it starts to narrow the scope of the kind of education we can offer."

The budget crunch comes at a time when labor negotiations between the district and the faculty union have reached an impasse.

Harry Korn, president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, said he doesn't believe that budget cuts are necessary, especially after the union last month offered to forgo cost-of-living raises next year to help shore up the budget.

He said the district rejected the offer, which would have added $2 million to its coffers.

Korn said he also believes the district is operating under a worst-case scenario that will probably never come to pass.

"I've been here since 1971, and I've been hearing doom-and-gloom scenarios like this since then that never materialize," he said.

District Vice Chancellor Sue Johnson, who oversees budget issues, said the union's offer was rejected because it came with several strings attached, including a desire to change the way part-time teaching assignments are made.

Moreover, Johnson said, even if the budget picture grows brighter in coming months, these kinds of difficult cuts would still be necessary to bring stability to a district that for several years has scrambled to make midyear adjustments in the wake of gloomy budgetary news.

"We've had these credit card practices, just like this state has had, of spending before we earn it," Johnson said. "We must rectify the financial situation to ensure the financial stability of the district in the long run."

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