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Decline in Enrollment May Bring Budget Cuts : Education: College district has 460 fewer students for fall. An additional $1.4-million shortfall looms.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Administrators for Ventura County’s community colleges Thursday disclosed another budget shortfall that more than doubles an existing deficit, even as fewer students enrolled this week at the three campuses.

A smaller number of students signing up for fewer classes for the fall semester means that the Ventura County Community College District’s budget problems could be deepening, despite heavy cuts in recent years and more on the way, officials said.

The newly discovered $1.4-million shortage will force the district to trim a total of $2.5 million from its $61.6-million tentative budget adopted by trustees two months ago, Vice Chancellor Jeff Marsee said.

Like the previous $1.1-million deficit announced earlier this month, Marsee blamed Thursday’s new shortage on declining property tax revenues.

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“The state did a preliminary review on what they thought the projections would be, but they followed them up last month and found those estimates were too high,” he said. “We were totally and completely blindsided.”

College district trustees said Thursday that the size of the growing deficit may threaten the quality of education that their campuses offer in Oxnard, Moorpark and Ventura. Classes and part-time teachers may no longer be insulated from cuts that must be made by Sept. 13, when the governing board is scheduled to adopt a final budget, they said.

“We’ll just have to hunt through the budget and cut where we can,” Trustee Timothy D. Hirschberg said. “It’s not a pleasant task, but it’s something the board is getting too used to doing.”

Preliminary numbers provided by the district Thursday show that enrollment has dropped districtwide almost 2% from a year ago. The hours of class time that students signed up for have also dropped slightly more than 1% from a year ago.

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The enrollment figures are important because the district’s funds are appropriated by the state based on the number of students who sign up for classes.

However, the current budget is based on enrollment from the last school year, so the new numbers will affect next year’s budget, Marsee said.

“Our position on all of the cuts has been not to take money out of the classrooms and try to make all of the (budget) adjustments in the support services areas,” Marsee said.

Since 1992, the district has eliminated five administrative jobs, 18 full-time faculty positions and 17 classified jobs, Vice Chancellor Jerry Pauley said. And any new vacancies will not likely be filled, he said.

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“We’re not hiring the people we think we need to hire,” Pauley said. “We’re not replacing people, and we’re reducing staff through attrition.”

Over the past several weeks, the district has not filled about a dozen vacant support-services jobs, a move that Marsee said will whittle about $750,000 from the multimillion-dollar shortfall.

“We did fill a few critical positions,” he said.

Trustee Gregory P. Cole, who is not seeking reelection in November, chastised his board colleagues for digging a deeper hole by approving a multiyear contract for the district’s full-time teachers earlier this year.

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“The district could have avoided some of the cuts if they had held firm with their contractual obligations with the (full-time teachers),” Cole said of the contract, which gave teachers a 1% pay hike. “Over 90% of our budget now is going to salaries and benefits. That’s appalling.”

In response, Hirschberg said the contract was the result of the entire board’s direction to staff negotiators. “We would have been in bad faith with the district and our employees had we backed out,” he said.

“It might have been politically expedient to do an about-face, as did the board minority that night,” Hirschberg said. “But in good faith, we had to honor the commitment reached over months of very hard bargaining.”

As of Wednesday, 24,912 students were enrolled in the three community colleges, down 460 students, or 1.85%, from last year, according to district figures. The hours of instruction are also down districtwide slightly more than 1%, to 282,468, a drop of almost 3,000.

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“The amount of the decrease continues to drop, so we’re coming closer to closing the gap,” said Barbara Buttner, director of governing board relations.

Oxnard College was the only campus to show an increase in students and class hours over last year.

So far this school year, the district’s smallest campus has enrolled 5,165 students, up five students from a year ago. Those students are also holding down tougher schedules, carrying almost 53,000 hours of class time.

“The gymnasium has come on-line now,” said Larry Calderon, Oxnard College vice president of instruction. “But we’ve also taken a hard look at what we offer and made sure that we scheduled a bunch of the high-demand classes so students won’t get turned away.”

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College Enrollment Slips

Fall, 1993 Fall, 1994 Percentage change enrollment*/hours enrollment/hours enrollment/hours Moorpark College 10,384/120,469 10,228/118,954 -1.53%/-1.27% Oxnard College 5,160/51,855 5,165/52,958 +0.10%/+2.08% Ventura College 9,828/113,107 9,519/110,556 -3.25%/-2.31% Total 25,372/285,431 24,912/282,468 -1.85%/-1.05%

* Final figures will be available next month, after late registration closes.

Source: Ventura County Community College District

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