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Unexpected Cut Would Dig Deeper Into SD Community College Reserves

Aired 2/22/12 on KPBS News.

Community colleges in San Diego and across California are facing another, unexpected, shortfall.

— After taking a $100 million hit as part of California’s midyear trigger cuts, the state’s community colleges are facing the possible loss of nearly $150 million more. But San Diego’s community college district has been planning for this worst-case scenario.

When state leaders raised fees for community college students this year they anticipated fee revenues would stay stable. Instead, the increase coupled with still-high unemployment across the state has meant about $100 million less for the system. Pair that with lower than projected property tax revenues and it means community colleges may have to cut a total of $149 million from this year’s budget.

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

But the San Diego Community College District has set aside reserve funds for exactly this kind of scenario, according to Richard Dittbenner, a district spokesman.

“So we did plan for this because we’re trying to avoid the dislocations that would be caused to the thousands of students who are attending the San Diego Community College District,” Dittbenner said.

He said the colleges are already using reserves and other revenue to cover the cost of about 2,000 full-time student class hours not paid for by state funds.

District officials hope the state’s leaders find a way to avoid these latest cuts. That would leave the district on better financial footing for next year, Dittbenner said.

California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott has said he is working to convince the governor and legislature to restore funding to the community college system.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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