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State wants cash back

California gives COC $900,000 bill for last year’s budget

Posted: November 16, 2008 8:21 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2008 4:30 a.m.

Less than 60 days after College of the Canyons passed its 2008-09 budget, administrators learned the state of California wants nearly $900,000 back, college officials said.

Half of the total sum requested is state money awarded to the college for the 2007-08 school year and spent more than a year ago, said college spokeswoman Sue Bozman. The remainder is money no longer available to the college that was budgeted into this fiscal year, she said.

In effect, the state is giving the college a bill for last year and an automatic withdrawal notice for this year.

"We already did with less last year and now we need to go back and find $450,000 of this year's budget," Bozman said.

Bozman said the college will be forced to search for money in unrestricted funding sources like advertising and travel expenses. It hopes to steer clear of unrestricted funding designated for student payments, disabled services and financial aid.

Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, said forcing community colleges to pay for the state's financial errors is unfair to students.

"While we have sought new flexible funds in each year's budget to enable local college trustees, administrators, faculty and staff to address localized needs, the ‘categorical flexibility' proposal will simply pit disabled students against poor students and career-technical programs against major initiatives to address the basic skills crisis," Lay said.

To complicate matters, even though last year's student growth numbers soared 15 percent, the college received state funding for about 8 percent student growth.

Last month college trustees passed a $210 million budget that allocated funding for an 8 percent growth rate but will fall short of covering the 17 percent growth spurt the college underwent this fall, Bozman said.

In hard numbers, last year's budget cut represents about 2,100 unfunded student enrollments and a potential total of a 12,000-student enrollment funding shortfall this spring.

Trustee Bruce Fortine, originally elected to the college board in 1967, said actions taken on behalf of the state are disappointing.

"The economic situation is undoubtedly the worst I've seen in my life. This is completely uncharted territory as far as education is concerned," he said.

The college, however, took measures for just such a crisis, Fortine said.

"Our chancellor and Board of Trustees have always been planning for the future. We've worked with tough budgets and we've been eyeing toward the future for the last two or three years," he said. "We always plan ahead."

Whether students will feel the impact of the economic butchering is still unknown, though Fortine said Chancellor Dianne Van Hook is excellent at minimizing expenditures and maximizing income.

"It depends on how bad it gets. But the reason we are here is for the students," he said.

Earlier this month Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a fiscal crisis action plan with a potential $9.2 billion statewide budget cut for the current fiscal year. His plan calls for $4.7 billion in new taxes and $4.5 billion in budget cuts.

Of those proposed cuts, Schwarzenegger called for a 5 percent reduction to each California community college district's general apportionment, a total savings of $332 million statewide.

Of the 19 states with budget deficits, California leads the pack with a $22.2 billion financial shortfall, representing 22 percent of its total budget.


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