An Open Forum for Faculty at Santa Rosa Junior College
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The Budget as Narrative
Making Sense of the SRJC District Budget
This is the second in a two-part series
by Will Baty, Regular Faculty Member in the Library & Info. Resources Department
In the classic movie Rashomon, a crime is committed and the movie retells the
story from multiple perspectives. Each narrative addresses the same incident, but the stories differ widely. In my previous article, "Budget as Narrative Part 1," I discussed the SRJC budget and the attendant narrative, suggesting that there are different ways of telling the budget story. I posed some questions as a means of suggesting that the answers might help to illuminate a different narrative from the District's public narrative. Just as in the film, the budget story can be better understood from multiple perspectives. It is my hope that through these articles, the faculty will be better informed and more engaged in the budget process at the College.
So we know that the District's budget is unbalanced, that there is an ongoing structural deficit, and that the District is on stability funding this year.
When you take these three facts and put them into the broader context of what is happening at other community colleges, the District narrative, which places the blame on the State, fails to fully address these issues. So let's try and address those questions that were posed in the last article.
The first part of the answer lies in the District's own metaphor of "kicking the can down the road." I have suggested that just as the State has tried to avoid difficult choices, the District has engaged in the same sort of strategy.
There is a clear and persistent pattern of avoiding "hard" choices that involve reducing program size. This primarily occurred during the Agrella administration and was the result of a number of decisions that directly impacted our cost of operation. The key decision was the "no layoff of regular contract employees." This set the tone for a number of other decisions such as "backfilling the categorical programs" (approx. $500,000 annually), making ongoing transfers to the College Farm ($250,000 for 2011), redirecting funds to the Child Care Program ($562,000 in 2011), and failing to adequately address the STNC problem ($1,100,000 in 2012), all of which have contributed to the problem. Individually, each of these decisions can be justified from a number of perspectives, but collectively they represent unwillingness on the part of the District to address the fiscal impacts.
Using District-supplied numbers, AFA has calculated that SRJC has "one of the highest operating costs per FTES" of our comparison group. ✱
If the overall size of your programs and services remains the same while the State reduces funding, you will end up with a very predictable outcome—a budget shortfall. If you continue this pattern for a number of years, you end up with an ongoing structural deficit ($6.2 million in 2012).
The Structural Deficit
To date, the District's strategy appears to be entirely short range in its approach. They will ask for additional and ongoing salary concessions from all the employee groups (currently 3.25% for faculty). They will ask for increased contributions to cover cost increases in benefits, and the end result will be a one-year "fix" that fails to address the long-term problem. If there is a long-term strategy to address the District's structural deficit, there's been no specific plan that has been shared with the college community. The current plan is unsustainable and assumes that the faculty will be willing to continue to accept salary cuts. This should be of grave concern to the faculty, who have shouldered the vast majority of the cuts, via reductions to the schedule of classes (through adjunct layoffs) and reductions in pay to all faculty. In the meantime, the District's structural deficit is likely to grow and represents a significant threat to the well-being of SRJC.
Stability Funding and District Planning
For 2013-14 the District opted to go on state stability funding, which provides a one-year reprieve from the loss of state revenue for those districts failing to meet their FTES targets. The District chose this course of action owing to uncertainty over the passage of Prop 30. The District essentially placed a "bet" that Prop 30 wouldn't pass and so instituted drastic cuts to the 2012-13 schedule of classes. This "saved" the District $1.8 million, but it is important to note, these savings came at the expense of our students, who couldn't enroll in much-needed sections. Now that the District is on stability funding, the plan is to spend that $1.8 million in savings to get back to our FTES target next year and avoid additional budget reductions.
The problem is that Prop 30 did pass, and the District will now be spending that $1.8 million just to get back to where we were. Colleges that didn't choose to go on stability funding are expanding their schedules to go after available state growth money and increase their overall revenues. While other colleges can pursue new funding, SRJC will have to be satisfied with an expanded schedule that yields little or no new dollars. This is what is known as a lost opportunity cost. While the old adage to hindsight applies here, the District's choice to go on stability funding now looks like a less than optimal choice.
Faculty Salaries, Statewide Rankings, and a Commitment to Excellence
Having worked at SRJC as a faculty member and dean for over 30 years, I have always taken pride in our often-stated "commitment to excellence." However, once you become aware of the larger statewide picture, the budget situation of other districts, and their approaches to this ongoing funding crisis, you begin to wonder how we are defining "our commitment to excellence."
The State recently released data that provides a statewide "scorecard" for colleges based on a multivariate ranking known as SPAR.
A cursory look at the top ten colleges reveals no listing for SRJC. The same goes for the top 20 colleges. We finally make our appearance at rank 25. This is not where most of us see ourselves in the system.
Another commonly employed benchmark relates to compensation levels for faculty. For over twenty-five years AFA and the District have maintained a negotiated agreement to use a "Rank 10" methodology that ties our salaries to being the tenth best-paid faculty in the State. With the onset of the District's budget problems, and the faculty concessions on salary, we have fallen far behind other colleges who have maintained their salary schedules. Let's take a close look at some benchmarks:
On an overall comparison, the College has fallen to rank 34 in terms of faculty compensation. That's right, rank 34. Also of note, 14 districts in the State are offering faculty salary increases.
Another revealing benchmark can be made with the comparison group the District uses as a benchmark for SRJC.
Source: AFA 2013 Salary Study
In other words, at no point on our faculty salary schedule are we anywhere near
Rank 10 in terms of compensation.
Finally, for the visual learners or graphically inclined, an internal look at SRJC total budget expenditures and faculty salaries over the last decade shows a disturbing trend.
Source: CCCCO Fiscal Trend Analysis Reports 2002-2013
At this point I think you can see that the narrative chosen can be crucial to our understanding of the budget. There can be no doubt that the State's lack of funding for community colleges plays a large role in our lack of revenues. However, when you look at the expenditures side, over which the District has control, the current narrative fails to adequately address our situation. When this is coupled with a knowledge of the status of other districts, a much clearer picture begins to emerge.
In closing, I'd like to urge the faculty to become better informed about and more engaged with the District budget and its narrative. Without that engagement, the "commitment to excellence" of which SRJC has been so proud begins to look like just another form of marketing, a slogan or cliché that lacks substance.