Other Voices: Effects of California’s mismanagement hit home at Sierra College | TheUnion.com

Other Voices: Effects of California’s mismanagement hit home at Sierra College

For years, California has been living beyond its means, spending more than its revenue, and using a variety of accounting gimmicks to paper over the problem. In the last year, it has become readily apparent that the music has indeed stopped, and it’s time to pay the piper.

The lack of any more “tricks in the bag” caused the state to pass community college funding cuts last September that blew a $9.8 million hole in the 2009-10 Sierra College budget. Literally, the state eliminated funding for classes that had already been scheduled and were filled with students.

Because of the efforts we’ve made to work together and build fiscal discipline, our Board of Trustees had built $6.5 million in new reserves over the last five years. While we had originally set these reserves aside for a “rainy day,” this was much more like a fiscal hurricane – and the storm is still raging.

We used $3.8 million of reserves, $1.9 million in one-time money and $4.1 million in spending cuts to cover the 2009-10 budget hole.

Starting last September, our team began the process of developing a plan to balance the 2010-11 budget, which begins with a deficit projection of roughly $9 million. (This number can vary since it depends entirely on what the governor and Legislature do, but it is no lower than $8.4 million).

There is no easy way to do this. Unlike the feds, we can’t print money. Unlike the state, we can’t borrow it. Our only choice is to align our spending with our revenue, just like every American family does.

First, our management team came to the board and asked us to establish some broad principles they should use while developing their plan to reduce spending. I’m paraphrasing, but here are several that I heard the board establish:

• Everybody, including the Board of Trustees and the management team, will need to feel the pain of these cuts. The board ordered a 5 percent cut to its stipend at our last meeting.

• We must protect our ability to serve as many students as possible, and save as many of our staff members as possible, while budgeting in a sustainable way.

• We would rather have fewer programs that are resourced to be highly relevant, up-to-date and deeply connected to the job markets they equip students for, rather than have a large number of job-training programs with inadequate opportunities for graduating students.

• Above all else, strive to use this fiscal crisis to lay a sustainable foundation for the college to grow, both in its ability to serve students, and in its commitment to educational excellence, after the crisis passes.

Since the board established those principles, our management team, unions and college governance groups have all been involved in a very long conversation, developing the following package of spending reductions to recommend to the Board of Trustees:

• Elimination of more than 35 management, faculty or classified positions (25 percent currently vacant)

• Across-the-board 5 percent salary reductions for all staff

• Additional six unpaid furlough days for all non-instructional staff

• Closing six of 17 sports teams

• Closing three of 21 career and technical education programs

• Closing the Small Business Development Center

• Reducing all faculty contracts in excess of 175 teaching days

• Significant reductions in student services, counseling and transfer assistance to students

Our team will present this package to the board at a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 4 p.m. in the Dietrich Theater at the Sierra College Rocklin Campus. I invite any and all members of the public to attend that meeting and share your input with us. This is our community’s college, and tough decisions like these are made better with multiple perspectives.

I am not yet committed to voting yes on this package, but I will tell you that I’m confident of three things. First, I’m confident that we have the right management team in place to lead Sierra College through these challenges and to a brighter future ahead. Second, I’m confident they built a good process to give us a solid foundation for making a decision.

And finally, I’m confident that Sierra College will get through this. We’ll be a bit smaller, a bit more focused, and we will lose some very valuable programs that helped train a lot of students for many years. Sadly, with the state’s mismanagement, we can’t avoid that outcome. But we are resilient, and we will emerge from this crisis stronger, and prepared for sustainable growth. The public that we serve deserves nothing less.

Aaron Klein is a member of the Sierra College Board of Trustees. You can reach him at http://www.AaronKlein.com.

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