Ventura County Community College trustees have asked the state for a financial break after they were hit with penalties of more than $600,000 over their failure to hire enough full-time faculty members.
Trustees voted Tuesday night to ask the state to defer nearly $288,000 of a funding reduction, a request the state is expected to approve.
State law requires college districts to meet a certain ratio of full-time faculty to part-time faculty or pay a substantial fine for noncompliance. This year, the penalty is $57,535 for each full-time position a district falls short of its target.
In Ventura County's case, the 2003 target was 55.2% full-time instructors to 44.8% part-time. Ultimately, the state wants districts to employ 75% full-time instructors.
"The Legislature believes community college students deserve to be taught by full-time faculty," said Robert Turnage, vice chancellor for fiscal policy at the community college chancellor's office in Sacramento. "I guess you could call it 'tough love.' It's a regulation that has teeth, and it was put in place because the Legislature wanted it."
In fall 2002, the Ventura district was told that its full-time faculty obligation was 423.2, and it reached the goal with 423.8 people. Beginning this fall, the obligation grew by five positions, but the district found itself 11.2 full-time positions short.
"Financially, we struggled all through last year to prepare for this year, so we didn't have the money to pay for full-time faculty," said Bill Studt, the district's interim chancellor.
He warned that the problem will worsen next fall because a voluntary retirement program last spring, designed to save money, leaves the district down an additional 44 full-time positions.
Studt estimates it will cost at least $3.5 million to hire enough full-time instructors next year, which is approximately the amount the district could lose in funding if it doesn't meet its staffing target.
"Next year, either we're going to spend the money to hire full-time faculty or pay an estimated fine of $4 million," Studt said. "But the real question is: Where is that money going to come from? And with the state's problems with its budget, we're not expecting our funding to get any better."
Deputy Chancellor Mike Gregoryk said Wednesday that Ventura trustees would begin lobbying other state educators this weekend to gain support for changing the system.
"There is absolutely no reason we should receive penalties from the state in these tough fiscal times. We're having enough trouble keeping our doors open," he said.
Larry Miller, president of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, said the union has warned administrators for years about hiring more part-time rather than full-time instructors.
Meeting the state's full-time staffing mandates will be especially difficult after the retirement earlier this year of dozens of veteran full-time instructors, including himself, he said.
"Next time around, it's going to get really, really interesting," said Miller, who now teaches one class a week.