Thursday, September 12, 2013

District's budget picture improves, but funding recovery still ongoing

The $126 million 2013-2014 general budget approved Tuesday by the Governing Board of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District represents a far rosier budget picture than a year ago, but district officials are quick to point out that they are just beginning to restore course offerings and student enrollment losses resulting from four years of state funding cuts.
The passage last November of Proposition 30, the voter-approved tax plan that fortified education, allowed Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges to offer more class sections and increase student enrollment. However, the tax measure is a temporary fix, with a sales tax hike set to end in 2016 and an income tax on high earners scheduled to expire in 2018. With state funding still reduced from pre-recession levels, district officials are taking a cautious note with the improved budget.
 “Prop. 30 was a tremendous relief, but the overriding message is that we are still serving fewer students than at our peak in 2008-2009,” Chancellor Cindy L. Miles said. “We need an economic recovery to pick up speed, or we may find ourselves right back in crisis mode once the Prop. 30 benefits expire.”
Although the district received additional state money this year, this year’s budget shows the funding crisis is far from over. State funding for the district was still below 2008 levels by nearly 1,400 FTES (full-time equivalent students), based on a formula that funds community colleges according to the number of full-time students for which the state will pay. 
Still, after four years of cuts totaling $16 million that forced the district to slash 1,600 classes, the district budget indicates good news on several fronts:
·         $1.8 million in funding the state has allocated toward rebuilding enrollment, which will allow the district to serve the equivalent of 383 additional full-time students.
·         A cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, of $1.3 million – the first from the state since 2007.
·         An increase of 240 class sections, up 11 percent from a year ago
·         For the first time since 2009, both colleges will be offering short-term classes during winter break in January. Another robust offering of summer classes is also anticipated.
The expanded course offerings beginning last spring have already led to stronger enrollment numbers at both colleges. Grossmont College’s enrollment is more than 18,000 students, a 6 percent increase from a year ago, while Cuyamaca College’s enrollment of nearly 9,000 students represented a 9 percent increase.   
The district’s budget also includes funding for work to begin on projects at both campuses as the result of Proposition V, the $398 million bond measure approved by East County voters last November. The district received favorable bond ratings, and the first $80 million bond series was just issued. The district is now selecting architects and finalizing plans for the first projects to be constructed – a teaching and performance theater at Grossmont College, and a student services building at Cuyamaca College.
Governing Board President Bill Garrett said it is gratifying after several grim years to see a positive change, adding that the optimism is palpable when walking around the campuses and talking to students.
“Having to turn away students for the past few years has been painful and disheartening for everyone,” he said. “To see the clouds finally lifted and to be able welcome back students this fall and to offer them the classes they need to progress in their lives has been tremendously uplifting.”