Colleges rocked with another budget hit

California community colleges have been hit with an unexpected midyear budget cut of $149 million.

The "February surprise" budget cut will mean an estimated loss of $1.5 million for Antelope Valley College, according to figures from the Community College League of California.

The latest shortfall is the result of a $107 million shortage in community college student fee revenues, a $41 million shortage in property taxes and $1 million in miscellaneous adjustments, according to Dan Troy, California Community Colleges vice chancellor of fiscal policy.

The cut is significantly more than a $30 million reduction state officials had warned of a few weeks ago due to a decline in student fee revenues.

State chancellor's office officials have already met with state budget officials and legislative leaders to share their concerns over the surprise cut.

Although an economic recovery appears to be underway in California, "the recovery does not appear to be fast enough to help turn the negative tide until the 2013-14 fiscal year," according to Dan Troy. While community college officials will fight to have the funding restored, Troy cautioned leaders of the state's 112 community colleges "there is no guarantee that the deficit will be backfilled."

Troy noted the state's current year deficit of more than $4 billion and the state's need to borrow $1 billion to cover expenses as reasons for his caution.

"Given the state's financial distress," Troy wrote to college leaders, "districts will need to take a close look at their current year budgets to determine whether any adjustments are needed to make it through the fiscal year in the event the shortfall goes unaddressed."

"It is unconscionable that the state continues to foreclose on educational opportunity at this time of record demand and high unemployment," said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California. "These latest cuts threaten the elimination of even more classes and more faculty and staff layoffs."

Unlike public grade schools, community colleges have no statutory protection from revenue shortfalls.

Troy said more challenges await colleges next year.

"Similarly, with the prospect of more midyear trigger cuts on the horizon in November -- the Department of Finance now estimates the (California Community Colleges) will be in line for a trigger reduction of $292 million if the governor's ballot initiative fails -- districts need to have a plan in place to address the possibility of another difficult year in 2012-13," Troy wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a November ballot initiative to ask voters to approve tax increases to help fund education. The $292 million trigger for 2012-13 if the initiative fails is also higher than earlier projections.

Lay noted that before the latest cuts, community college were operating with $996 million (23 percent) less funding since 2008-09, and have reduced enrollment by nearly 284,000 students at a time when demographically they should have significantly increased enrollment. Even with the reduced enrollment, funding per student has dropped by $554, or 9.3 percent.