State Budget Crisis Affects Education, Campus

Jessica Bourse

We are in trouble.

Budget cuts, fire and recession – it’s been one hell of a year, countrywide, including here in the Golden State, and the repercussions could be crippling to Glendale Community College.

On Dec. 1, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared that the U.S. has been in recession since December 2007. A few hours later, the Dow dropped 680 points, making it the fourth worst drop in its history.

Any one of my classmates from last semester’s macroeconomics class could have predicted this. The signs were everywhere – unemployment was on the rise, the stock market was in bad shape, and the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was decreasing. Our economy has slowed down tremendously.

The national debt has risen to a staggering $10.6 trillion dollars – and California isn’t doing too great either.

California’s deficit is now at $11.2 billion for this fiscal year. Economists project that by February 2010, the deficit will swell up to $28 billion.

Mike Genest, director of the Department of Finance, warned California legislature on Monday about the impending “financial disaster” looming over the state if lawmakers don’t act now.

“Failure to act now would create a financial disaster,” said Genest. “The numbers will get worse. I can tell you with certainty that they will get substantially worse.”

If we time travel back to the year 2005, when Genest was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, we’ll notice a much more relaxed and positive version of Genest.

“I look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to ensure California’s budget is balanced so we can rebuild our great state,” said Genest on a press release on the governor’s Web site.

What happened, Mike?

State Controller John Chiang and Treasurer Bill Lockyer were also present at the joint committee, which is made up of members from both the state assembly and senate.

And what does Schwarzenegger propose as part of the solution? A $332.2 million cut to community colleges.

The axe to Glendale Community College could amount to $4.5 million if the governor’s proposal is approved.

California community colleges serve more than 1.7 million students each semester, and with cuts to the infrastructure of education, campuses will be forced to make sacrifices.

According to the Community College League of California, if the budget cuts are executed, an estimated 262,845 current students will be turned away from community colleges. Glendale could lose about 20 percent of its students.

And that number is expected to rise.

As of October, more than 2.3 million Californians are currently unemployed. What does this have to do with community colleges?

As the year has progressed, and the economy has worsened, community colleges have been noticing a pattern in enrollment – an increase of Californians returning to college to retrain and better prepare for job market.

The Department of Finance has estimated that by 2010, another 400,000 Californians will become jobless, thus causing the unemployment rate to increase from the current 7.7 percent to an even more shocking 9.7 percent.

If we connect the dots, the image is clear – enrollment rates at community colleges will soar, and schools won’t be able to support the heavy load.

Look around the campus; the budget crisis has already hit home.

By the end of this semester, Glendale will part with 43 much-loved retiring faculty, management and staff members. While few were planning on retiring as soon as this month, a generous incentive retirement bonus sweetened the deal, and many couldn’t resist. Honestly, who could blame them?

In the long run, the college will save money. Eventually, the positions and empty offices will be filled by lower-paid replacements. but will GCC ever be GCC again?

Will we ever have an ethnic studies professor as passionate and inspiring as Carlos Ugalde? Or how about an administrator like Larry Serot, who always put students and student programs first in budgetary decisions?

It’s not fair to have to lose so many who dedicated their lives to enriching the future of our state and country through education.

Doesn’t it sicken you that $10 billion are spent annually on incarcerating Californians instead of educating them? Or how about feeding school children?

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell reported that due to the economy, there are more and more children seeking meals at school. In fact, there might not be enough money to fund the Free and Reduced-Priced Meals program this fiscal year.

I hope this upsets you; I hope this makes you want to pick up your phone and call your representatives. Let them know that cutting from community colleges is not only unacceptable, but an insult to the institution of education.

How do we solve this problem?

The first step is simple. Our state legislature must put aside their bi-partisan differences and work together.

The Republicans in Sacramento are beyond stubborn. Schwarzenegger and the Democrats are looking into raising taxes to help solve the crisis, and the Republicans won’t hear another word about it.

If we raise taxes, we won’t have to cut money from education spending.

“As unpalatable as tax increases or further program cuts may appear,” said Chiang, “neither is as toxic to the state’s fiscal health as doing nothing.”

Personally, I’d rather spend a couple of more dollars in taxes if that meant balancing our budget and saving education.