State Budget Crisis Undermines Education

Jessica Bourse

We are in trouble. Budget cuts, unemployment and recession – it’s been one hell of a year in California.

Up until Feb. 20, the state didn’t have a budget and the $42 billion deficit was becoming too heavy for Californians to bear. More than 10,000 state employees had been laid off, and another 10,000 would have been let go if the budget hadn’t been signed when it finally was.

While the lack of a state financial plan was damaging to the system of education, the budget signed by the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, will cut an estimated $7.4 billion from schools and community colleges. Another $3.7 billion will be cut the next fiscal year.

According to Ron Nakasone, Glendale Community College’s interim executive vice president of administrative services, “The college will lose $500,000 to cuts this year, as well as a delayed $5 million payment. Next year, GCC will be losing $3.7 million.”

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

Glendale College is currently putting infrastructure on hold – a $63 million student services lab building, which would be a tremendous benefit to the campus. The pending building would accommodate classrooms, student labs, and a counseling center for students with disabilities, to name a few long-postponed projects.

On Feb. 23, the Glendale College board of trustees met and Ricardo Perez, vice president of student services said, in regards to the building, “We had to stop at the planning phase.” Due to the state’s budget crisis, required funds have been suspended.

“Once the state releases the funds, work on the student services lab building can begin again,” said Nakasone.

Our once-Golden State is now a hotbed of joblessness with an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent, significantly higher than the national average rate of 8.5 percent. As the years have progressed, and the economy has worsened, community colleges have been noticing a pattern in enrollment – an increase in Californians returning to college to retrain and better prepare for job market.

Enrollment rates at community colleges are soaring, and many schools can’t support the heavy load. According to Nakasone, Glendale’s enrollment for the spring 2009 semester is up 7 percent. “We’re faced with a situation where we’re not getting additional revenue for serving the students,” said Nakasone.

In short, the state budget crisis has had a catastrophic effect on campus.

In the fall semester of 2008, Glendale parted with 43 much-loved retiring faculty, management and staff members. While a few were planning on retiring anyway, a generous incentive retirement bonus sweetened the deal, and many couldn’t resist. Due to the state of the economy, who could blame them?
In the long run, the college saved money, and eventually, the positions and empty offices will be filled by lower-paid replacements.

However, as the college’s president, Dr. Audre Levy, said on Dec. 4, 2008 at a special lunch honoring the retirees, “We have about 1,000 years of service added up that is walking out of the door. in terms of wisdom and heart that they have nurtured over the years.”

Will Glendale College ever be the college we once knew?

Will we ever have an ethnic studies professor as passionate and inspiring as Carlos Ugalde? His vibrant lectures and inestimable wisdom on Latin America studies gave the campus sabor, con mucho, mucho amor. He opened the eyes of countless students with his photography, taking them on visual journeys – from the serene ruins of Machu Picchu to the busy streets of Mexico City.

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

On March 10, President Barack Obama addressed the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on issues regarding education.
He said:

“The future belongs to the nation that best educates its citizens – and my fellow Americans, we have everything we need to be that nation. We have the best universities, the most renowned scholars.. We have a legacy of excellence, and an unwavering belief that our children should climb higher than we did. And yet, despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us.”

And Californians have allowed our state to hack the foundation of education. Cutting from community colleges is not only unacceptable, but an insult to the institution of education, and it’s time the state legislature realized this.

But instead of investing in the future, our lawmakers have sacrificed the intrinsic value of a community college education for short-term crisis management, a catastrophic move that will ultimately stain their hands.