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Shoreline Community College administrators asked the College Council for help in determining how the college should approach what appears to be another round of serious budget cuts.
“What should the process be for the coming budget restrictions?” said Vice President for Administrative Services Daryl Campbell in prefacing remarks about the budget (See related story). With what looks like at least a $550,000 hill to climb and the potential of it becoming a $3.5 million mountain, Campbell said that some level of restructuring would be needed and there are two general paths.
“Natural attrition is one option,” Campbell said at the Oct. 6, 2009 meeting. The approach involves not replacing people as they leave and allowing that to define the college. “It’s conservative, but requires funds to make the transition, the glidepath if you will.”
Campbell said the college is financially healthy, but that current reserves could be quickly exhausted if attrition didn’t match the need for cuts.
“Another option is to re-evaluate the entire college, look deeply into the strategic plan, and shift people and resources to revenue-generating programs,” Campbell said. “It’s a more entrepreneurial approach, higher risk, but also the potential for greater reward.”
Faculty member Tasleem Qaasim, a new member of the College Council, expressed sentiments reflected by a number of members. “I don’t see how attrition works. I like it, but don’t know how that helps,” Qaasim said. “I’d like the state to be thinking how community colleges can be more entrepreneurial, but don’t know. And then, how does the idea of academic excellence stay true to itself and make money?”
SCC President Lee Lambert acknowledged that the questions were difficult, but that state appropriations based on the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) students remain the number one revenue source. “But it isn’t just one answer, it’s lots of thing, fundraising, grants and contracts, FTEs, all coming together,” Lambert said.
Lambert said significant savings could come from colleges working together to consolidate some “back office” functions, but that the state system isn’t organized to make that easily possible.
Council members discussed various campus involvement options that included the council itself, budget and strategic planning committees, a task force aimed at gathering outside information or perhaps a new, smaller group.
“(The President’s Senior Executive Team) will take this, talk to the budget committee, and bring it back to college council,” Lambert said. “I want to have something for the trustees at their next meeting. The longer we delay, the more time we lose for process.”
At the first College Council meeting of the 2009-10 academic year, Vice President for Administrative Services Daryl Campbell outlined the full spectrum of potential budget circumstances facing Shoreline Community College.
One thing was clear: It is a very broad spectrum.
“The reports from the (State Board of Community and Technical Colleges) and the state Office of Financial Management indicate that the state revenues continue to slide,” Campbell said at the Oct. 6, 2009 meeting. “How far they slide, combined with a number of other factors, means this college could be facing additional cuts in amounts ranging from about $550,000 to as much as $3.5 million.”
A key difference between this year’s brewing budget storm and the 2008-09 challenge is a condition tied to the state’s acceptance of federal stimulus money. Even though cuts may seem prudent to make right now, the state’s pledge to not drop below 2006 spending levels on education make that impossible. The cuts made this past fiscal year already put higher education perilously close to the 2006 threshold.
“That may seem like good news, but all it really means is that we’re looking at having to make two-year’s worth of cuts in one year,” Campbell said. He added that state board officials did look into an exemption from the stimulus-money requirements, but were turned down.
Campbell pointed out that state budget forecasts are still declining. A $482 million projected shortfall in June added another $278 million in September and the hole is expected to get deeper with the November numbers. Adding to that is the fact that federal stimulus money, of which SCC has received $540,000 as its share, is scheduled to go away in 2011.
Those factors add up to about a $1.3 million problem for Shoreline, Campbell said. But wait, there’s more.
State initiative maven Tim Eyman successfully put I-1033 on the Nov. 3 ballot. The official ballot title for I-1033 reads: “This measure would limit growth of certain state, county and city revenue to annual inflation and population growth, not including voter-approved revenue increases. Revenue collected above the limit would reduce property tax levies.”
Campbell told the council that while it is not clear what specific impact I-1033 might have at Shoreline Community College if approved by voters, the general direction for state government is presumed to be a further reduction of revenue. A fiscal impact statement from the Office of Financial Management says, “The initiative reduces state general fund revenues that support education; social, health and environmental services; and general government activities by an estimated $5.9 billion by 2015.”
According to media reports, two polls, by Rasmussen Reports and Elway, show I-1033 resonating with voters. The Rasmussen numbers show 61 percent definitely or probably in favor of the initiative while Elway puts it ahead 46 percent to 22 percent, 32 percent, undecided
Projecting worst-case scenarios for the economy and passage of I-1033, Campbell said the budget challenge for Shoreline could reach $3.5 million. The entire college budget is about $40.2 million, of which just under $24 million comes from state appropriations.