Community College Leaders Warn of ‘Educational Armageddon’ in State

San Diego Community College District Chancellor Constance Carroll and others.

The San Diego region’s community colleges face “educational Armageddon” if Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan—including a vote on tax extensions—isn’t approved by Sacramento lawmakers, said one of five college district CEOs Tuesday morning.

Responding to the so-called May revise of Brown’s budget, Chancellor Cindy Miles of East County’s community college district told media crews and onlookers at Grossmont College that “to cut community colleges is a long-term economic catastrophe for the state and the economy.”

Although the May revise, which noted increased tax revenues, was “definitely an encouraging sign,” Miles bemoaned “an extraordinarily uncooperative Legislature unable to move past certain ideological views.”

Miles, the La Mesa resident who warned of Armageddon, was joined by district chancellors or presidents Constance Carroll of the San Diego Community College District, Denise Whittaker of Southwestern College, Ed Gould of Imperial Valley College and Robert Deegan of Palomar College, plus Cheryl Broom, interim director of marketing and communications at MiraCosta College in Oceanside.

MiraCosta President Francisco Rodriguez had a closed-session board meeting Tuesday morning and couldn’t attend, said a Grossmont district spokeswoman.

They and a half-dozen student leaders spoke in a second-floor lounge in the 8-month-old Health and Sciences Complex, built with voter-approved bond funds but in jeopardy of seeing more class cuts.

John Weber, a 27-year-old Navy veteran at Grossmont College transferring to UC Berkeley, noted on a national level the “billions of dollars spent on superfluous things that we could be cutting back a little bit.”

 “I find that spending $25 million on a cruise missile may be a waste of investment—when you could put that money into the educational system,” he said.

San Diego’s Carroll said the Brown budget plan is “exactly the same strategy that [Republican] Gov. Pete Wilson used in the past.”

But the $6 billion of expected extra revenues from tax receipts reported this week—while a “glimmer of hope”—won’t close a budget gap of $15 billion, she said.

“We’ll take our fair share of cuts,” Carroll said of her three-college district, but she and others spoke of drastic course cuts and thousands of students turned away if a tax extension isn’t put on the ballot and approved by voters.

“California is on the brink of a problem that can be solved,” she said. “Unlike other crises, this is one we can solve” by preventing current sales taxes and others from expiring. “This is a time for practical solutions, not a time to stay with ideology.”

Said Whittaker of Southwestern College in Chula Vista: “As we cut what’s left of the community colleges, we are cutting off opportunities to serve our neediest population.”

Said Miles: “The future is closed if we go to the all-cuts budget.”

Gould of Imperial Valley College noted that “Imperial County was deemed the Recession Capital of the United State” two years ago when unemployment was at 32 percent.

It’s now about 30 percent, and the training offered at his college is seen as crucial to help cut that rate.

“We’re the only game in town,” he said.

The educators provided a summary of the impact of an “all-cuts” state budget on San Diego and Imperial County community colleges:

  • Loss of $73.2 million.
  • Loss of 3,338 class sections.
  • 46,573 students turned away.

“The (region’s college districts) have done their part to adjust to the governor’s plan thus far by making the deep and difficult cuts that were required,” said a press release at the news conference. “However, the second part of the governor’s plan was to be an extension of existing tax levels.”

Brown’s May revise proposed allocating $350 million to community colleges, offsetting a third of the funding that had been deferred, the release said.

But “because this part of the plan has not been approved by the Legislature, community colleges and others still face an all-cuts budget and, if the [tax extension] is not resolved, are facing additional, devastating cuts that will be catastrophic for students and catastrophic for the region.”

Asked what she would tell state Sen. Joel Anderson and Assemblyman Brian Jones—Republicans representing East County in Sacramento—Miles told La Mesa Patch:

“If you care about the future of this state, we need to do a strategic balanced approach to finally [end] this budget standoff.”

She said that includes cuts and tax increases, adding: “It’s reasonable. It’s balanced on both sides—just like we need balance on both sides of the aisle.”

Nick Serrano, a student leader at Southwestern College, said students are concerned about the budget “because of the ambiguity of it . . . and [they lack] any type of certainty as to whether the classes will be there for them.”

Dylan Keeling, a student leader at Grossmont College, said: “We’ve talked to several Republicans [in the Legislature]. There have been some who have just been unwilling to move.

Weber, a second-year student at Grossmont College, urged citizens to reach out to their lawmakers, “write Jerry Brown a letter, do whatever you need to do. … The budget cuts that face now are unacceptable.”