College Board OKs Warnings About Jobs

Times Staff Writer

Ventura County community college trustees voted Friday to send notices of possible layoffs to all 400 full-time instructors who teach at the district's three campuses, a move aimed at buying time to bridge an estimated $8-million budget shortfall next year.

The unanimous action by the five-member board capped an emotional, marathon budget meeting in Camarillo, where more than 200 students, faculty and staff members implored trustees to save programs and services threatened by the state's fiscal crisis.

"Without these people in my life, I wouldn't be here today," said Peggy Dawson, a 36-year-old single mother who credited services for low-income students at Oxnard College with helping straighten out her life. "You cannot cut these programs because they make a big difference."

The Ventura County Community College District faces $6 million in reductions in the current budget cycle and is bracing for $8 million more in cuts in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Determined to spread the pain equally among employees, trustees voted Friday to warn 40 support staff members that their hours may be cut or reduced. They also put administrators on notice that they will be expected to take leaves of absence for up to three months or reduce their work hours by 25% next year.

"We all need to get together and remember that this is more than about our jobs or the contract or whatever else," interim Chancellor James Walker said. "We have to remember it's for the students. It's the students that are taking it in the neck in this state. They're the ones who are being denied what we all had, a chance for a higher education."

Walker was referring to Gov. Gray Davis' budget plan that calls for more than doubling student fees from the current $11 per unit to $24 per unit, the first fee hike for the state's two-year schools in a decade.

By giving notices of possible layoffs to all the district's full-time faculty members, trustees hope to have enough time to negotiate with employee unions to find ways to save money without cutting jobs. Some ideas include offering early retirement packages and unpaid furloughs and charging employees $50 or more each for medical insurance.

Under state law, districts have to notify faculty members by March 15 on the possibility of layoffs. A final decision on each layoff has to be made by May 15.

"The board has given us all a challenge -- to give them every option possible," Walker said. "There is a big difference between a final decision and an option."

Under state law, each employee who receives a "March 15" notice has a right to challenge his or her potential layoff before an administrative law judge. The district's legal counsel, Jack Lipton, said he did not know how much it would cost to conduct those hearings.

Although the faculty union made a last-ditch plea to the board not to send out the pink slips, board members said the district's dire financial picture left them no choice.

"I feel we all have to take a portion of the pain, of which there is a lot," trustee Cheryl Heitmann said. "I am going to reluctantly vote for this resolution."

The three college presidents said they had made every cut possible, and for at least two of the campuses it wasn't enough. Both Oxnard and Ventura colleges still have unresolved shortfalls of $108,000 and $479,000, respectively, in their budgets for this year -- on top of an additional $1 million in cuts the district learned about Wednesday that it will have to make this year.

"We don't have any more to give," Oxnard College President Lydia Ledesma-Rees told the board.

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