Community colleges brace for possible Prop 30 failure

In the windows of their Los Altos Hills office, the Associated Students of Foothill College display signs encouraging voters to vote yes on Prop 30. (Photo courtesy of Antonia Zavala)

Santa Clara County community colleges, anticipating that Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 30 may be defeated on Tuesday, are already estimating how much they’d need to slash enrollment, courses and staff should voters reject the tax measure.

California’s 112 community colleges face a $338-million, mid-year, collective budget cut should the proposition fail. The new cuts would come on the heels of more than $800 million in cuts to the state’s community colleges over the past four years.

Foothill College and De Anza College – which together serve the most secondary education students in Santa Clara County—face a $9.8-million mid-year cut if Prop 30 fails.

Foothill and De Anza colleges would need to eliminate  800 courses and accept 4,485 fewer students annually, effective Jan. 1, 2013, school officials said. The schools are in the midst of discussing which positions would be cut.

“The process for deciding which positions to eliminate is taking place at the colleges and the district office, and those recommendations will subsequently come to the Board of Trustees,” Becky Bartindale, coordinator of public affairs and communications at the Foothill-De Anza district wrote in an email.

While the cuts can be spared if the proposition passes, the state’s community colleges, hailed by public officials including President Barack Obama, as key engines of state economic growth, have already been battered by the earlier budget cuts.

Those funding reductions mirror those suffered by California’s state schools and the University of California campuses, where tuition hikes have prompted students protests over the past year.

“Proposition 30 isn’t a permanent fix,” said Vincent Mendoza, a student trustee at De Anza College. “It’s going to put a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound.”

Forty percent of the revenue from increased sales taxes and higher income taxes on the rich under Proposition 30 would go to K-12 schools, community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California system.

If the proposition fails to pass or if the competing tax Proposition 38 wins more votes, there would be an automatic $5.6-billion cut in statewide education funding.

A survey published Oct. 24 by the Public Policy Institute of California showed support for Proposition 30 slipping. Only 48 percent of likely voters said they would vote for proposition 30, down from 52 percent in September.

David Plank, executive director of the non-partisan research center, Policy Analysis for California Education, based at Stanford University, said that Californians’ distrust in state government’s handling of education funding and distaste for higher taxes make Californians’ unwilling to generally back tax-hike measures.

“Getting to 50 percent [of the vote] is going to be a big challenge,” Plank said. “It’s only an achievable challenge for 30, but 38 is doomed to fail and pretty much always has been.”

Mendoza, a third-year student at De Anza, said he was worried that course reductions prompted by Proposition 30’s failure would make it difficult for him to fulfill all the requirements of his English major. Incoming majors would have an even harder time fulfilling all of their required classes in the normal two to three years, he said.

De Anza Associated Student Body Senator Cythnia Ouandji, a biochemistry major from Cameroon, said science majors who need to enroll in lectures and lab units have already had a hard time fulfilling requirements because of earlier budget cuts.

“Every class missed pushes you back even more,” Ouandji said.

With just days left before the election, Oujandi and other students are making in-class presentations, doing door-to-door advocacy, and posting “yes on prop 30 signs’’ across campus to better inform the electorate of what is at stake.

The board of trustees for Foothill and DeAnza colleges has announced its support for Proposition 30. But the board members remained neutral on Proposition 38, which focuses on K-12 school funding.

Both tax propositions, 30 and 38, may pass. But only the one with the higher number of votes will be enacted. So even if Proposition 38 wins, the trigger cuts to community colleges would take effect.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Foothill ad DeAnza colleges would face a $38 million in cuts over the next four years if Prop 30 fails. Actually, the $38 million represents $28 million in cuts that the schools have made over the past three years, plus the roughly $10 million in mid-year cuts that will occur if Prop 30 fails.

An earlier version also said that the board of trustees has already made decisions about what positions to cut. In fact, those decisions are ongoing. And there is one board of trustees serving both Foothill and DeAnza colleges.

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