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The Budget as Narrative
Making Sense of the SRJC District Budget
This is the first in a two-part series
by Will Baty, Regular Faculty Member in the Library & Info. Resources Department
Telling a story or creating a narrative is intrinsic to being human. From a group of facts, events, and interactions, we generate a narrative as a way of creating meaning or providing explanation. It is my intention to examine the District's budget narrative as it relates to the financial situation of the College. I believe that the current District narrative fails to adequately explain our financial condition and does not provide a clear path forward. It is my hope that faculty will be better informed about the issues and become involved in the choices ahead.
Doug Roberts, as Vice President for Business Services, is in charge of informing the campus community about the District's budget, what it means, and what we can expect. In his informative budget forums, Roberts presents the District's narrative, which addresses what we can expect from the budget and what are the financial issues we have to face in the upcoming budget year.
In describing the State budget for SRJC, Vice President Roberts frequently employs the metaphor of "kicking the can down the road." In other words, he suggests that the State has failed to address its budget issues with the hope that the economy would get better in the future. But after listening to the presentation, it becomes less clear what the District's plan is for moving towards a better budgetary outlook.
There are three key facts that emerged from the District's narrative:
District expenditures exceed revenues, or in other words, the District is spending more than it takes in.
The District has budgeted a $6.2 million structural deficit (ongoing).
For the first time in the College's history, the District has chosen to go on stability funding.
These three facts are crucial to understanding the District's current fiscal crisis and why the situation will not be getting better at SRJC in the near future. So let's examine these three critical elements relating to our budget.
The District is spending more than it takes in
This first issue is related to the other two issues, and it is essential to understanding the District's finances. The District has been proposing, and the Board of Trustees has been passing, budgets that spend more than they receive. If you think this sounds like the State of California and the "kicking the can" metaphor, you would be right. SRJC has a spending problem. The primary District approach to addressing this issue has been to ask for faculty, staff, and management concessions (cuts to salary and benefits), reductions to class offerings for students, reductions to adjunct faculty assignments, and "reengineering" efforts.
The $6.2 million structural deficit
Next, when the District continually spends more than it takes in, a structural deficit is the result. Hence, the District now has a $6.2 million projected budget deficit, and it will continue to grow unless the District balances its budget. This deficit has more than doubled since the budget crisis began in 2009. Externalities such as inflation, health care costs, and retirement systems contributions all continue to place pressure on District finances. The District's current budget narrative provides no clue on how to address this deficit without
ongoing faculty, staff, and management concessions.
Finally, for the first time in its history, the District has chosen to go on stability funding. This concept is a bit complicated, so suffice it to say that the State gives the District an FTES goal each year, and if the District fails to reach its goal, the State gives us one year to get back to that target.
How did this occur you might ask? Simply put, the District cut far too many sections in 2012-13 and failed to generate the necessary enrollment to meet its FTES target. It is worth emphasizing that we have never missed our target in the past and we have next year to regain our goal. To do this, we will spend $1.8 million just to get back to where we should have been. However, this assumes that enrollment can be turned on and off like a switch. If we were to fail to meet our target next year, our funding would be reduced further.
Given the three issues just discussed, it's very important to note that this is not happening at all the other community colleges in California. Once you know this fact, the District narrative fails to address a number of important questions:
Why does the District propose budgets that are unbalanced?
What is the District plan for addressing the $6.2 million structural deficit in 2013-14?
What scenarios are being planned for, in case the District doesn't reach its FTES target?
How have fourteen of the seventy-two California community college districts, facing the same financial constraints as SRJC, been able to approve salary raises to their faculty in 2012-13? (2013 AFA Salary Study www.santarosa.edu/afa/statewide_study.shtml)
The answers to these questions will differ widely depending upon whether you adopt the District's narrative or perhaps some other.
In the second half of this series, I will address these questions and explore further the implications of the District narrative and what it portends for the faculty and the College's often stated "commitment to excellence."