Enlarged safety net cuts departments short

Theresa Marie

Since the stock market crash of 2008-2009, the phrases “budget crisis”, “fiscal crisis,” “economic structuring,” and other related terms have become common sightings in news stories. At DVC, services for disabled and low-income students have taken major hits to their programs and staff and some positions have been eliminated because of state budget cuts.

Thus, it may come to the surprise of many that the United Faculty is reporting that the Contra Costa Community College District has a 23 percent reserve fund account — or, $31 million in district reserves.

Glenn Appell, vice president of the faculty union at DVC, said, “Last year, when the District to be heading for dire straits, the UF agreed to make some concessions. ”

The state of California had a chaotic fiscal year and the District had to respond accordingly.

When asked whether or not the District was hyperconservative with regards to the reserve funds, Appell responded with, “In this particular state of [fiscal] uncertainty, I don’t think that it is unwise to save extra money.”

But now that the reserve is so high, campus unions are wondering whether or not their concessions will be reimbursed.

Jeffrey Michels, the United Faculty president, said, “We did not make sacrifices in order to grow the reserve… It is my hope that we will adjust to that agreement. There may be several stages in which we will approach these negotiations. We are currently having informal discussions with the District and we are asking for a formal meeting.”

Cuts in staff and funding have affected the integrity of many of the programs that help the most vulnerable, high risk students, Michels said.

Michels described the profile of these students as, “… people who don’t have that sense of entitlement to be as aggressive and assertive towards getting what is rightfully theirs. They are typically first or second generation citizens. Some are parents who are trying to raise a family and get an education. Often times, they don’t have experience navigating the system. Many risk falling through the cracks.”

Michels explained that funding losses to certain programs (such as EOPS) means that the state risks, “… losing the ones for whom we [community colleges] are a gateway towards the middle class.”

The Chancellor’s Office requires the districts to keep a minimum of 5 percent  reserves. Seven years ago, the Contra Costa district’s reserves dipped below their 5 percent mark due to paycheck and labor unrest. The district was placed on a watch list when it hit 3 percent.

Two to three years ago, the Board of Governors implemented a second 5 percent reserve. Any money pulled from this part of the reserve must be vetted and approved by the Board.

Tim Leong is the Public Relations representative for Contra Costa County District. Leong said that the District reserves are a response to the reality that the District can not expect that the State of California will be taking in enough revenue to adequately support the District. Thus, these high reserves are likely to be relied upon in our impending “hard times.”

In response, Appell said, “I think that this particular colleague is mixing apples and oranges. I think that there are major political forces that are trying to dismantle public education… Most people believe in ‘the public good.’ California’s Master Plan for Higher Education believed that public education was supposed to be free. Think about what a different climate that was, when people supported and voted for that.”

Appell did agree with Leong that, “Our battle is not with the district; it’s with the state.”

Michels, Leong, and Appell all commented that the Chancellor’s Office estimated that this year, 670,000 students were turned away from higher education classes in California.

Of this different climate, Michels said, “We have shifted the burden of education away from the public and on to the students.”

With students and employees suffering from the State’s financial crisis, it seems that all involved parties understand the notion of being “between a rock and a hard place.”

With regards to appeasing the anxieties (and dwindling pocket books) of those whose concessions have contributed towards such high District reserve funds, Glenn Appell said, “From the perspective of the Vice President of the faculty Union at DVC, I have full faith that we will continue to work collaboratively with our District. We have a great District. I think that we have the best Chancellor in the State. We will resolve the current disparity in inequities… I am feeling very optimistic.”