L.A. Colleges Cut the Core, Teachers, to Pare Expenses

<i> Harold W. Garvin is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Los Angeles Community College District. </i>

In its decision to send layoff notices to 157 tenured instructors, the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees has embarked on a course that will have disastrous effects on the educational programs of the nine district colleges for years to come.

Due to several factors, we trustees have faced difficult times for some years now. The community colleges have been forced to rely almost totally on state financing since 1978 and the passage of Proposition 13. Yet the governor has been unwilling to provide adequate funding. Other stumbling blocks confronting us include state and federal requirements that limit a local board’s flexibility in dealing with a variety of problems; a strong teachers’ union with a contract that includes provisions that seemed wise in an expanding educational market but restricts a board’s opportunities to respond to new problems in an educational climate of diminishing students; an expensive new college (Mission) that is still in the stage of development where costs are extraordinarily high, and a district student population with declining skills that requires much more counseling, remedial attention, financial assistance and various other expensive services.

One course that the board could take was to lay off faculty. After resisting this tactic for several years, six members of the board have now embraced this ploy with 157 notices of layoffs for next year. If the layoff proposal had been directed toward areas of declining vitality, it would have made some sense. However, the majority of the instructors to be laid off are in areas where enrollment is adequate and in programs that are vital to a college’s success.

The public apparently sees this layoff proposal as one taken to solve a financial problem. I see these layoffs as destructive to what our colleges are meant to be. We are closing out vocational and occupational programs despite the fact that students finishing these programs are immediately hired in reasonably well-paying fields that provide continuing service to citizens of our community. These vocational programs are costly because they must be taught in small classes. Thus, their cost per student is higher than the average. This has always been true, so why end these programs at this time?

The board is closing out nursing programs at West Los Angeles and Los Angeles City colleges on the assumption that students who normally would have entering these programs will instead enroll at other colleges in our district. That is not likely. Most probably will leave our district for nursing programs in neighboring community college districts.

We are also dealing a mortal blow to our interscholastic sports program by laying off all of our part-time coaches and a large number of our regular physical education teachers. Again, the result will be that athletes will enroll in colleges outside the Los Angeles Community College District.

Most inexplicable of all is the decision to use a class-average size of 34 to determine how many teachers to lay off in some areas. This magic number comes from the teacher contract, which says a class average of 34 shall be our goal. By resorting to this arbitrary number, we are laying off teachers in anthropology, history, political science, psychology, sociology and a number of other fields. And in these fields, the class-size numbers of seven of our community colleges are dragged down by the significantly low numbers at two others--Mission and Southwest colleges.

Worse, the money saved by laying off teachers may well be canceled out by continued loss of student enrollment. No one can foretell how many students will leave our schools because of these cuts, although everyone knows that a loss will occur. No one in authority has any serious plan on how to reestablish morale among campus employees, although we all recognize that morale is at an all-time low.

The irony in this dreadful decision is that it is unnecessary. The unexpected surge of lottery funds, combined with the first reasonable state budget proposal for community colleges made by Gov. George Deukmejian, has put our finances in much better shape for this year and next. There are alternative methods of cutting back expenses, such as putting administrative and classified employees on an 11-pay-period schedule, unless these workers are needed during the summer. But the district’s administrative staff finds proposals such as these uncongenial and the board will not force the issue. So 157 teachers have received layoff notices and will either be fired or transferred into some other field of instruction.

I would concede the need for some faculty layoffs and for the closing out of some unsuccessful programs. I realize that the six other trustees have made a decision that they look on as painful, yet correct. However, it is my judgment that we have made an enormous, terrible mistake, and should reconsider the whole decision.