GCC Students Services Brace for Budget Cuts

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Employees at the GCC Disabled Students Placement Services and Equal Opportunity Placement Services will be holding their breath for the next couple of weeks as cuts to the college budget are finalized.

Disabled Students Placement Services Associate Dean Joy Cook does not know exactly how much of the department’s budget will be cut; however, the department is preparing for cuts of up to 45 percent next year or about $690,000.

“Right now we’re doing fine,” said Cook. “How deep they cut will determine what we’ll have to do.”

Cook said that meeting federal mandates without adequate funding will be just as difficult as absorbing the budget cuts. The college is required to provide for physically challenged students services such as adequate transportation to and from classes, sign language interpreters, visual aids to access computers and the Internet, among others.

This means that services would not entirely go away. However, classes that are not federally mandated, such as special physical education classes, classes for the deaf and learning disabled and classes in the high tech center, would be cut.

“We won’t be able to evaluate students who have a learning disability,” said Cook. “It will reduce the [Disabled Students] program to a very bare minimum.”

Layoffs within the department are possible, said Cook. It is projected that at least 25 percent of the staff will be laid off. The department has 25 staff members; a quarter loss would mean that roughly six employees would be let go. Part-time and hourly employees who have not had the same level of training would replace laid-off staff, and Cook feels this will be a contributing factor to a decrease in the quality of service.

“The funds that the state provides do not cover the full cost of services,” said Cook. “These students aren’t going away. Our requirement to serve them will not go away. So we will have to look to the college for more funds. Will the quality diminish? Probably. Will our ability to respond quickly to a need? Definitely.”

Nothing has been decided yet, however, and these are just preliminary figures.

“And that’s after we’ve cut all the fluff,” said Cook. “We won’t buy supplies, we won’t update our equipment. . Everything is cut to the bone.”

Cook added that services will be reduced for the summer and winter inter-sessions. Yet she felt optimistic about the coming year, given the large support the program has garnered. She hopes that legislators will be equally receptive to the needs of the program and realize that Disabled Students Services cannot operate on a bare bones budget. Additional funds will be needed to meet federal mandates. Cook hopes the percentage cut will be much lower.

“We’re fighting like mad,” said Cook. “This is a not a simple budget cut. The ramifications just echo on and on. I think we’re making progress.”

GCC student David Chi traveled to Sacramento recently, where he gave a five-minute presentation on the effects that a slice to the Disabled Students Services budget would have on the quality of services offered to physically challenged students. Chi, who is deaf, thinks that his presence in Sacramento was worthwhile. He feels he made a change.

“I felt I had a right to complain and explain how I felt about Disabled Student Services and the budget cuts,” Chi said. “The services are really important. They help for interpreters, counselors and psychologists.”

This was Chi’s first rally, but he isn’t finished yet.
“I plan on continuing,” said Chi, a third-year student and computer graphics major. “I just don’t feel like it’s fair. He’s [Gov. Gray Davis] not being sensitive to the needs of disabled students. We need those services.”

“These services are the only way that they can continue in college,” said Donna Scarfe, interpreter coordinator for deaf services. Scarfe added that physically challenged students who walk through the doors of Disabled Students Services want to work and be productive members of society. Most have the same goals as non-disabled students, such as transferring to a four-year college and starting a career.

“I think Gov. Davis will change his mind, and there won’t be budget cuts next year,” said Chi. “If they do the budget cuts, how am I going to be able to pay for things that I need? I’ll have to pay for books, interpreters and use of the High Technology Center.” Chi plans to transfer to the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

“As we cut class offerings, it’ll take longer for [disabled students] to transfer,” said Cook. “How are they going to succeed in life? It reduces their ability to become employable. It diminishes their ability to be independent. It continues their necessity to stay on public welfare.”

Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which serves the interests of 1,700 to 3,000 GCC students, will also feel a monetary strain as a result of the budget cuts. Extended Opportunity Services associate dean Vicky Washington said that students who depend on the EOPS aid may see some services suspended.

“We are in limbo,” said Washington. EOPS has already lost 10.8 percent of its funding for 2002-2003. The department plans to lose 43 percent of its budget for the 2003-2004 fiscal year.

“This cripples the program,” said Washington.

Washington said Extended Opportunity Services will have to cut grants it gives to students and reduce the amount of student workers enrolled in work study.

“We help students from the very beginning,” said Washington. “We help them understand the process so that they can get through college successfully.”

Washington added that a cut in the amount of book vouchers the department can give will seriously affect students. Book vouchers work much in the same way a bank account does in that students keep a certain amount of money in the GCC bookstore to be used to purchase textbooks.

“I may only be able to give $100 to a student,” Washington said. “That does not even begin to cover the amount they will purchase for all of their classes. It’s going to be very difficult.”