Coast College district sees budget increase for second year

The Coast Community College District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a $243 million budget — about $5 million higher than last year's spending plan.

The 2014-15 budget, which Vice Chancellor Andy Dunn presented to the board Tuesday night, marks the second consecutive year since 2007 that trustees have not been forced to trim expenses, according to fiscal documents.

Budget cuts handed down by the state in previous years contributed to reduced funding for student programs and other expenditures at the district's three colleges — Orange Coast in Costa Mesa, Golden West in Huntington Beach and Coastline, which has campuses in various locations including Newport Beach.

The spending plan projects $182.7 million in total expenditures, but $180.2 million in revenue. District staff plan to make up the $2.5 million difference by dipping into reserves.

The district has $35.9 million in reserves, according to budget documents.

Dunn cautioned the board that because spending is projected to outstrip revenue in future years, it could quickly begin to deplete the district's reserves.

But he went on to explain that his calculations are simply projections for future years.

"This is not meant to be a crystal ball," he said. "It's simply a mathematical set of assumptions we have made."

The state is increasing its contribution of categorical money this year to about $777 million to fund student services like financial aid and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), which provides financial and academic assistance for disadvantaged students. Coast will receive about $14.7 million for categorical programs this fiscal year.

Categorical programs were some of the hardest hit by budget cuts in previous years.

Beginning in 2008, categorical program funding from the state was reduced to $376 million from the average of about $600 million, which resulted in many programs being reduced by half and some being eliminated completely.

"We've seen a jump in funding that quite frankly we haven't seen in a very long time," Dunn said.

The district will spend roughly $118 million — or 58% of the budget—on employee salaries this fiscal year.

It will also spend about $51 million on health benefits for employees, an increase of about $2 million from last year, according to budget documents.

"Staff benefits are up significantly this year, largely because of the uptake in health benefits," Dunn said.

The district will continue to work on hiring more full-time faculty this year in an attempt to keep up with state standards for community colleges.

The state requires districts to employ about 363 full-full time faculty or risk being fined $60,000 per vacant faculty position. Coast's number of full-timers has been declining since 2008-09, budget documents show.

It currently employs about 406 full-time faculty members.

"It's a balancing act with full-time faculty and clearly a board priority with the important expenses related to student success," said trustee David Grant. "I think with this kind of information, we can sensibly, deliberately look forward to making some reasonable decisions in this balancing act."

The board will discuss a hiring plan during its next meeting Sept. 17.

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