San Diego Business Journal Education: Officials Say Davis Doesn't Understand Role of Campuses

San Diego community college officials say their campuses have routinely been at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of state funding.

However, they say Gov. Gray Davis' recent $126 million budget cut is downright insulting.

"This sends a message that Gov. Davis doesn't acknowledge the important work that community colleges do in the state in general," said Serafin Zasueta, superintendent of Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista. "Governor Davis does not understand that 55 percent of all students at all the universities in this state are from community colleges."

Last month, the governor cut $126 million from community colleges statewide , that's 23 percent of the governor's total $554 million in vetoes.

The majority of those funds, $98 million, came from scheduled maintenance, instructional equipment and library materials at community colleges.

The nine community colleges in the county lost nearly $11 million, with the greatest hit to the San Diego Community College District with a loss of $4.5 million.

Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in the East County lost $2.7 million; Southwestern lost $1 million; Palomar Community College District lost $1.5 million and MiraCosta College District in Oceanside lost $682,000.

Fighting For Funding

Area officials are not taking the cuts without a fight. They joined chancellors statewide to call and write legislators in an effort to regain the lost funds.

"We are feverishly trying to get a hold of our elected officials and the governor's office to get them to recognize the issue better and how it's effecting our students," said Omero Suarez, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district.

One elected official who is listening is state Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside. In an editorial on the topic, Morrow stated, "While (community colleges) do not receive the recognition that their UC (University of California) and CSU (California State University) brethren do, the truth is that the California community colleges are the backbone of our higher education system. Yet for the past dozen years, California community college funding has not been commensurate with the service they provide."

Morrow said Sen. Bruce McPherson, R-Santa Cruz, has proposed legislation that will, over a five-year period, increase the community college budget.

Extensive Cuts

In the Grossmont-Cuyamaca district, 10 major maintenance projects were budgeted, including replacing roofs and upgrading the heating and air system. Unless the funds are restored, those projects will not be done.

Suarez has been with the district for three years and said he has seen some cuts, but never this extensive to basic infrastructure and operational needs.

The same is true for Zasueta. The Southwestern Community College superintendent questioned how community colleges are expected to prepare students for entrance in four-year universities without the proper resources.

"You're wholesaling the foundation for the students," Zasueta said.

The superintendent said San Diego County community colleges are in the bottom 10 of the 108 in the state. Southwestern, he said, is at the very bottom. The school gets less than $3,000 per student in state funds , that's about $4,000 less than the highest funded community college.

Local officials have not been shy in claiming that they get fewer funds because they give fewer funds to the governor's political campaign.

Officials point out that statewide enrollment in community colleges is more than the University of California and California State University combined, but there is a major funding disparity.

"I think there is some truth in that (getting less funds because of a lack of political clout)," Grossmont's Suarez said. "If you stop and think about it, community colleges don't generate a lot of money as opposed to universities that have foundations. We surely don't have the connections in the governor's office."

Suarez and other community college officials will travel to Sacramento to voice their concerns when the Legislature reconvenes Aug. 20.