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Community colleges face ‘double-whammy’ from budget cuts


Community colleges are facing a “double-whammy” from impending spending cuts because their enrollment is soaring although their budgets are based on last year’s attendance, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp acknowledged Wednesday.

Kottkamp met with community college presidents to discuss the broader issue of planning for even more enrollment growth over the next 10 years, but the discussion included current state revenue losses caused mainly by a slumping housing market.

Budgets for universities and public schools are set according to enrollment estimates for the new school year, but the 28 community colleges get only enough money to pay for the students they had in 2006-07. They rely mainly on tuition to make up the difference.

Fall enrollment, though, is expected to increase by at least 10 percent in many urban areas, said Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia Community College in Orlando, who organized the meeting. He said many Floridians affected by the economic decline are enrolling to learn new skills.

“It’s a double whammy for them and I think that we recognize that,” Kottkamp said. “We can’t really make any decisions yet until we’ve looked at the entire budget picture.”

State agencies have suggested cuts ranging from 4 to 10 percent of their budgets in response to a request from Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders.

Lawmakers are scheduled to meet in special session Sept. 18 to modify the state’s $71 billion budget due to an estimated $1.5 billion shortfall in expected tax revenue for the fiscal year that began July 1 and the latter part of the last one.

Community colleges would lose $117 million and the State University System $232 million under a worst-case 10 percent scenario.

The universities have responded in part by freezing first-time freshman enrollment, but the community college presidents have rejected that idea.

“Most of us are making severe, significant cuts to parts of the college that don’t touch student access,” Shugart said.

That includes eliminating a $600,000 television program with about a half-dozen staffers at Valencia, which delivered courses and other information on local cable systems.

“We’ve laid off the staff and are closing the studio and dispensing with the equipment,” Shugart said.

Florida Community College in Jacksonville is planning to lay off up to 35 people in non-teaching jobs while Seminole Community College may have to delay opening a new campus for nursing and other health programs at Altamonte Springs.

Community college officials expect enrollment to continue growing during the next decade and have proposed $100 million annual increases in operating budgets to meet that demand, Shugart said. The colleges now are budgeted for nearly $1.2 billion.

That also would increase the state’s funding share, which has grown only 29 percent compared to 50 percent for tuition over the last 10 years, Shugart said. Tuition now pays a third of the colleges’ costs. The presidents’ plan would reduce that reliance to a fourth, Shugart said.

The Department of Education has proposed across-the-board cuts in most of its spending areas. That includes up to a $720 million cut for public schools. Decisions on specific reductions, though, would be left to local districts.

One exception is a recommendation of no cuts in a $2.5 billion appropriation for reducing class sizes as required by a state constitutional amendment voters passed in 2002.

The State Board of Education added another exception Tuesday for the state’s $147.5 million teacher merit pay program. It’s popular among conservative politicians including Crist but disliked by many teachers and school officials. Critics say all teachers should get raises in a state that lags behind the national salary average before some get performance bonuses.

– Associated Press

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