Deficit Looms for L.A. Community Colleges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Community College District is facing its worst fiscal outlook in years, with eight of its nine campuses heading toward year-end deficits.

The estimate of a combined $6.1-million shortfall among the colleges, contained in a newly released report by the nation's largest community college district, has sent some schools scurrying to trim spending and has alarmed district trustees.

"Right now, the numbers I'm seeing are as bad as I've ever seen in the district," said William Norlund, acting president of Mission College. Although it is the district's second-smallest school, Mission College is running a $1.5-million deficit, the largest shortfall in the system.

Three of the district's other colleges--Pierce in Woodland Hills and Southwest and City colleges in Los Angeles--also have estimated deficits exceeding $1 million.

"We are continually expected to do more with less," Norlund said. "It's just getting to the point where we can't do it anymore."

District officials cautioned that the midyear deficit projections will probably improve as the year progresses and colleges cut costs. Yet the combined performance by the nine colleges is still headed toward its worst year-end deficit in at least five years, figures show.

The district's teachers contract prevents mid-year layoffs, so immediate cutbacks to classes--and other effects on students--are unlikely.

Last year about this time, the 101,800-student district had projected a deficit of $2.9 million. But by the end of the fiscal year, the amount was reduced to about $470,000.

By comparison, between 1991 and 1993 the nine campuses had combined year-end surpluses that ranged from $3 million to $6 million. And no more than one campus ran a year-end deficit in any of those three years, district records show.

The district has covered individual campuses' deficits in the past, but made the schools repay the amounts. Colleges that run large or repeated deficits quickly find themselves in even greater debt.

District Chancellor Neil Yoneji blamed the financial problems on substantial enrollment losses, lingering effects of the Northridge earthquake and state funding cuts, as well as the district's lack of efficiency.

"This year is the culmination of a lot of stuff," Yoneji said. "I think we're about to bottom out. I don't think we'll get any worse than this." He pledged that the district's projected deficit would drop by year-end, although he acknowledged that enrollment has not bounced back as much as he had hoped.

"I think it's a guarded situation," Yoneji said. "We need to be very, very vigilant about it. But it's not as if it's a total panic or anything."

Several campuses already have frozen hiring and stopped purchases, officials said.

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