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Budget Ruminations & Sadness

09 Sep

I thought about titling this post Budget Nightmare.  If Prop. 30 doesn’t pass in California (and we need Prop. 38 to fail as well), schools in California are going to enter a phase never before seen in California education. I would like to think voters can see that.  I hope they do.  Polls say that Prop. 30 is passing – by a lean margin, of about 55%.  It should be winning by way more than that.  How can people not see that?

I can’t take credit for calling the work we’re doing in the Planning and Budget Council at Oxnard College “The Doomsday Scenario,” that was Vice President Mike Bush’s phrase.  He’s been pretty good about putting things in both complex terms – and then, the harder thing, in simple terms that I can understand.

We have to cut $1.6 million dollars from an already “flat” (actually slightly smaller) budget for Fiscal Year 2013 if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass.  If Prop 30 does pass we still have cuts to make.  I hope everyone realizes that.

We have to make these cuts in a way that still serves as many students as possible, both for the obvious reason of serving as many students as possible with our small budget and because if we serve fewer students, our future revenues go down.  We go into the Death Spiral (Alan Hayashi coined that one).  We were rescued last year from the Death Spiral by an adjustment to this year’s allocation, but I doubt we’ll be rescued again as each of the three colleges in our district come to grips with the realities that have plagued Oxnard College for so long.

We have virtually no clerical staff.  One person, Darlene Inda, is now doing the work formerly assigned to what I estimate (conservatively) to be 1.8 people.  Work that isn’t done by the now laid-off employees is simply done by whoever remains, it’s hard to estimate how much that has increased the workloads of everyone from the President on down.  Our Executive Vice President does not have an administrative assistant of her own.  Student workers fill roles formerly held by longer term employees.  Committees are taking on the work formerly done by such people as a public relations employee.   Most faculty know they have to be virtually self-sufficient, and if they don’t know that, they are learning it this year.

Reading the resource requests that faculty wrote last year, I have to shake my head.  Virtually everyone wants something.  Many programs asked for more clerical help, more faculty – but our budget is shrinking while salaries go up by step and column (as they should).  Instead of creatively planning on how to get by with less – even if Prop 30 passes, it’s not a panacea, and furthermore, it’s temporary; some faculty chose extravagantly (and perhaps woefully) dramatic language to describe their needs.  I’m not quoting any particular programs (I’m compiling the collective wail of faculty):  “If we don’t get more help, we aren’t going to be able to meet our learning outcomes” or “If we don’t get clerical help, the faculty are not going to be able to oversee labs properly.”  YIKES.  If that’s really true and your program is already expensive (it still has clerical support, for example), then you’re making an entire committee of people ask the question:  Can we afford you?

If we can’t afford your program, we can’t afford it.  We can’t risk student safety or faculty safety in a program that puts people at risk due to faculty inattention.  That would be in violation of Ed Code.

Did that sound harsh?  Well, let’s go on to the harsh part and why I’m so sad this weekend and obsessing about the College.

Athletics.

I am not a sports fan and I’m not athletic.  I’ve never been athletic, although I did love to go to football games in high school and college, those years are far behind me.

But I am very much aware of how important physical education is to human beings, how so many people are in fact constructed in such a way that kinetic learning is central to the whole way they approach the world.

We are very unlikely to cut Physical Education, in my view.  Remember, this blog represents my opinions, but I do feel people are better off knowing my opinions if they’re going to trust me to represent them and to ask the right questions of the administration.

But we are almost certainly going to cut Athletics.

Athletics (intramural sports, where our baseball team, our soccer teams, our cross country teams compete against other colleges) is not mandated by Title V/Ed Code.  These programs fall into what is called the “co-curricular” area, like…the cafeteria.  Last year, the Board eliminated cafeterias at all three colleges.  Oxnard College now has a café only because we have Culinary program at OC.  If that café fails to be self-sustaining, it will like be no more.

We have a childcare center on campus too.  It’s not mandated by law to exist.  It’s essentially a “co-curricular” program.  It has been given two years to break even (and it doesn’t take money from the general fund right now due to monies set aside at a different level of our funding model) or it goes away.

We have a healthcare center.  It may be at risk.

OCTV was “co-curricular.”  There was no legal mandate for it.  It was ended last year, another great sadness.

But, as we look at eliminating academic programs that are too expensive, academic programs that have a higher-than-average cost per student educated, Athletics is not only on the table to be cut, but there’s virtually no way that a program that is both 1) more expensive than average – by quite a bit; and 2) not required by law…has a good chance of surviving.

This is what I mean when I say we’re heading into budgetary times never before seen in California.  There are many factors.  We have lots of youngsters and not a lot of oldsters (who would ostensibly be paying taxes).  We have Prop 13 from decades ago protecting the oldsters.  We are increasing in minimum wage and part time jobs rather than in well-paying jobs.  The bottom fell out of the real estate market.  Enron screwed us over (and that’s a huge factor, don’t forget it).

If we could sell tickets to games and break even, Athletics would likely stay.  That is not the case at Oxnard College.  Students, for whatever reason, do not spend lots of money buying tickets – they do not arrive in huge numbers at games.  Could we change that?  Could Athletics live within a new budget created by ticket sales?  These are questions for the future.  Is Athletics going to survive while we cut classes needed for certificates, degrees and transfer, when the State of California says we have to have certificates and degrees – but not Athletics?

I cannot precisely say why this makes me so sad, to the point of having a nightmare about it last night.  I think perhaps it is the extreme effort that athletes put into their sports, the dedication, devotion and courage I’ve seen from athletes over the 26 years I’ve worked for this district.  In the classroom, athletes have made a difference.  Yes, some of them are sometimes squirrelly, but my own classroom research shows that these young men and women find a reason to be in school – because of athletics – and that they are intelligent, cooperative young people who end up doing very well in class.  They are often class leaders.  In anthropology, because we study sport, they bring a dimension to the classroom that cannot be gained by merely taking a physical education class.

In the end, college is not about athletics.  The “big schools” will be able to afford it, there will be places for really talented athletes to continue to show their talents.  The suddenness with which baseball disappeared from Moorpark last year, and basketball from Oxnard, though, are troubling.  What does this teach young people about the ability of their elders to plan?  Is it really necessary to treat this as an all or nothing kind of game?  I understand we’re not required to fund Athletics, and I understand that we’re cutting virtually every single thing we’re not required to do.  When we go to look at what other wonderful things we’re going to have to cut, though, I want everyone to remember that Athletics has had to look this disaster squarely in the eye for a year or more.  Our young athletes have been exposed to lessons about the world that other students did not have to face.  Our talented Athletics staff, headed up by Athletics Director Jonas Crawford, has had to carry on with a heavy weight tied to a thin thread hanging over their heads.

I have contacted the Oxnard College Foundation regarding funding for Athletics.  It seems to be so harsh to go from a still-living program to no program in such a short time.  I haven’t heard back yet.  I have no idea how to fund raise.  Students want to help, there is support for Athletics; there is simply no budget.  Since this is happening in a woefully similar way nationwide, we are looking at how other campuses have dealt with this.  Student-run intramural (as opposed to intermural) athletics are fun, but they are not quite the same (especially for sports like football, basketball and baseball, but for all sports).  Do students want to pay more fees to keep Athletics?  No student of whom I’ve asked that question has given an immediate response.  They need to think about it.  Will the community step up and help?  Where are the corporate sponsors?  What about the incredibly wealthy sports teams and athletes – can they be approached for help?

Will Oxnard itself get behind its youth – because the remaining athletes at OC are indeed local youth – and support Athletics at Oxnard once they understand how dire the situation is?  How is that kind of community support generated?   People who do a lot of community organizing are already in over their heads trying to work on Prop 30 and on keeping regular academic programs, on getting kindergarten and elementary class sizes down.

The brain is a complex organ, and the motor cortex is right in the middle of it for a reason.  The earliest known universities had Athletics and considered taking competition to higher levels an essential component of education.  It’s true that we can compete in other areas, but competition in Athletics has a purity to it, and a deep connection to the human spirit that cannot be denied.

Going to the gym for personal fitness is great, but Athletics brings something else to the table.  I will argue that we not cut co-curriculars altogether at OC, but I am not optimistic that even a small sum will be set aside for them.  They are all in the same boat and must become self-supporting.  It’s not exactly the best time in the world to try and raise more money, either.

It’s just very hard to even contemplate ending any of these programs when they are healthy and vibrant, just because of lack of money.  Where, oh where, are the rich philanthropists when you need them?  Can’t just one person out there buy a smaller yacht and donate the money to OC Athletics?  I can’t help it, that’s where my imagination goes.

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