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10 programs, 55 positions on MJC chopping block

POSTED March 1, 2011 10:58 p.m.

The effort to shed $8 million from Modesto Junior College’s budget would eliminate 55 employees and entire programs from the college – including mass communications, culinary arts, dental assisting, architecture, engineering, communication graphics, industrial technology, French, German and Italian – according to a report released by MJC President Gaither Loewenstein on Monday.

The budget also would slash Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, the Wawona Child Care Center, telecourses, and the west campus library. Coach stipends would end – though participation in collegiate athletics would continue.

Also on the chopping block: college recruiters and MJC management staff including the college’s Marketing and Public Relations Officer,  Director of College Research, Dean of Arts, Humanities and Communication, Vice President, Student Services, and Director of Student Development and Campus Life.

“The process of putting these recommendations together has been the most difficult experience of my professional career,” wrote Loewenstein in an e-mail to staff and faculty.

According to Loewenstein, the budget reductions were determined through a collaborative process, including College Council, Planning and Budget Committee and Academic Senate, and members of his management team, including directors, deans and vice presidents.

That group based their decision on the college’s core mission – transfer education, career-technical education and basic skills acquisition – as well as whether programs or services duplicated those available elsewhere in the area, programs’ contribution to student success, demand for graduates and program cost relative to benefits.

The proposed reductions hit so hard, in large part, as the $8 million in cuts accounts for 16 percent of MJC’s $51 million general fund budget. About 96 percent of that general fund is currently allocated to salary and benefits, leaving few low hanging fruit and little option but to cut staff and programs.

Loewenstein said in an impromptu forum on Friday that the decision to target specific programs with the budget proposal, rather than split the cut across the board, was intended to leave the college with fewer strong programs rather than make the entire college mediocre.

The cuts could have been more severe, the memo said, were it not for $2 million in unspent or rolled over funds from 2010-2011, and an additional $600,000 in expected retirements which helped to balance the budget.

And the cuts could yet be mitigated, as the budget reductions proposed do not include any reductions in salary or benefits for employees, which have yet to be negotiated. The reductions also don’t take into account a potential extension of the current half-cent sales tax, expected to go before voters in June, which could result in “significantly less” funds needing to be cut. Both negotiations and the potential tax extension would likely not occur until after the District’s March 15 deadline to submit pink slips to faculty members for the current year.

However, any savings from negotiations or extended taxes could be taken up with other factors not included in the proposed budget, including $550,000 in step and column pay increases, a “significant increase” in benefit costs, and increasing utility costs – some attributed to new, Measure-E funded buildings under construction. Also unaccounted for are increased pension costs, possible changes in state policy, and accrued vacation and compensatory time which must be paid to employees laid off.

Loewenstein will speak on the budget at 10 a.m. Friday in a public forum, hosted by the Planning and Budget Committee. The MJC Academic Senate will consider the budget reduction strategy at a special, Tuesday meeting, and the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees are scheduled to act on the proposal at their Wednesday meeting.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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