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Delta College cuts raise questions, concerns in county

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2003 10:00 pm

San Joaquin Delta College received mildly good news on its midyear budget cuts, and some employees are accusing the college of making capricious layoffs based on its preliminary, worst-case projections.

The Board of Trustees voted in March to eliminate 31 positions, laying off 19 workers and leaving 12 open positions unfilled, as part of a $3.1 million budget cutback. At the time, the board was bracing for up to $289 million in midyear budget cuts to California's community college system, but the midyear budget bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Gray Davis had only $161 million in community college cuts.

"From a practical standpoint, what happened is they looked at the worst-case scenario," said Bob Johnson, an organizer with the San Joaquin Valley office of the California School Employees Association, the classified employees' union. All 19 layoffs and 11 of the open positions were classified positions - employees who are neither administrators nor credentialed teachers.

"Something doesn't add up," Johnson said. "They made these cuts based on an 8.3 percent cut, and the actual cut is much lower."

Connie Cochran, Delta College's public information officer, said the cuts made last month were only part of what would have been necessary if Davis' proposed $289 million in cuts had become law. After Delta's $3.1 million budget reduction in March, it only needs to cut $70,000 more by the end of the year.

"What that means is that the actions Delta College took were exactly right," Cochran said. "There was a proposal by the community college system to cut $141 million. We knew we had to share in the pain, so we at least prepared for that. That's why we came so close when the cut was $161 million."

If the cuts are too deep, some layoffs can be rescinded, said Greg McCreary, a Delta College trustee who represents the Tracy area.

"You have to notify people ahead of time," he said. "With classified people, it's 30 days, but we gave 60 days notice. None of them have been released yet."

The cuts might seem excessive, because Delta had more to deal with than just reduced funding from the state, said Andy Dunn, Delta's vice president of business services. There were other "previously unfunded liabilities," he said, primarily $750,000 in unforeseen utility bills.

"Our district has been part of a purchasing group through the California League of Community Colleges, in order to reduce our costs," Dunn said. "The company that was providing energy to the group was Enron, and we received notice from the group that we owed $750,000 more."

Dunn said Enron's bankruptcy has so far made it impossible to obtain an accurate invoice of the electricity costs.

More layoffs will probably be necessary for next year; Delta has already issued preliminary pink slips to every administrator, including President Raul Rodriguez.

Johnson said the board should wait to proceed with those layoffs until it has an accurate picture of the 2003-04 budget. "We're worried the college is going to jump the gun and act prematurely, and some people will lose their jobs who don't have to," he said.

But the state Legislature might debate the budget until well into the fall, and Delta College must have a budget by the summer, said McCreary. "We've got to have a tentative budget," he said. "You're really just flipping a coin. At the last minute, we might find out something and make some changes, but we would not be financially adequate if we don't make these moves soon."

While community colleges escaped with minimal damage in the midyear budget cuts, they could be the whipping boy of next year's education budget. Davis is proposing $530 million in cuts for 2003-04, coupled with an increase in fees from $11 to $24 per unit. That cut would take about $6 million from Delta's $50 million general fund, with additional cuts possible from specific programs, Dunn said.

K-12 schools would receive cuts of under 3 percent in Davis' proposal, and the University of California and California State University systems would get small increases in funding.

Students, staff and teachers will march on the Capitol at 11 a.m. Saturday, in a rally sponsored by Californians for Community Colleges.

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