Community colleges face unexpected budget deficit

Community colleges face unexpected budget deficit
The California Community Colleges system has 112 campuses. (System map from the California Community Colleges website)
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California community college leaders warned Wednesday of an unexpected budget shortfall that could lead to more cuts in courses, staff and services.

The 112-campus system faces an additional $149 million deficit because of lower-than-expected property tax revenues and greater demand for student fee waivers, said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott.

The shortfall comes on top of a $400 million reduction in state funding for the current fiscal year and a $102 million midyear cut triggered when state revenues fell below projections.

About $107 million of the latest shortfall comes from a dramatic increase in cash-strapped students receiving fee waivers because of the weak economy, officials said. The percentage of fees covered by waivers has risen to 62 percent, up from 57 percent in last fiscal year.

"It's just one more blow to the investments we need in higher education to have a sound economic recovery," said Dan Troy, vice chancellor of finance.

The budget deficit could force community colleges to cut course sections, most likely in the summer, reduce teaching staff and increase borrowing, Troy said. That means more students won't be able to get the classes they need to complete degree and certificate programs.

School administrators are working to convince the governor and Legislature to step in to cover the budget shortfall.

State finance officials said it was premature to discuss additional funding for the community colleges, noting that tax revenue projections are often wrong.

"We want to make sure that we have more data in hand before we make any policy decisions," said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

Over the past three years, the state has cut funding for the community college system by $809 million, or 12 percent, reducing the number of students served from 2.9 million to 2.6 million despite strong demand, officials said.