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Our View: Consider both sides of ledger in Sierra budget

Our View
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No matter the decision, there are no winners in the budget dilemma facing Sierra College. The one sure thing: This is the time for college executives and trustees to earn their stripes and do what they were hired and elected to do — lead, and look hard at both sides of the ledger. Trustees considered a proposal Tuesday night to shed some $11.2 million from the 2010-11 fiscal year budget. This comes after the board and college leadership team fixed a $9.8-million hole in the current budget, using a combination of spending cuts, cash reserves and one-time funds. College leaders have done a credible job in managing a very difficult situation. The state budget mess is a trickle-down disaster that shows few signs of improving, and trustees and college President Leo Chavez are right to expect the worst in the next budget cycle. Tuesday’s cost-cutting plan included deep reductions to sports and vocational/technical programs, 5 percent salary cuts for all staff and an additional six unpaid furlough days for non-instructional staff. The plan eliminates the Small Business Development Center, and cuts student services, counseling and transfer assistance programs. Some people are wondering why a community college has athletic programs. Others are steaming about the loss of vocational classes when unemployment is high and technical degrees may offer the quickest path to a decent paycheck. No one doubts that cuts have to be considered, and some cuts need to be made, but only cutting programs and moving on is not an acceptable solution. If revenue is the problem, what revenue solutions are on the table? In an Auburn Journal story Monday, the Sierra College swimming team coach suggested he might try to raise the $20,000 his program will need next year. “When things get better, we’re hoping the college can get back in,” said coach Chris Breitbart. Are other coaches as passionate? Could golf, tennis, track and water polo programs exist on donated funding and volunteer coaches? Another option: Reopen Trustee Aaron Klein’s September 2008 funding manifesto and see if additional federal funds, corporate grants, matching funds or foundation programs can supplement the college’s income. That plan, “Practical Solutions for Real Progress on Sierra College Facilities,” didn’t predict the dramatic falloff in the regional and state economy, but did realize a multi-faceted revenue plan would be needed to overcome a decline in tax proceeds. The automotive and agriculture programs would seem to be a perfect fit for federal stimulus funds. Could corporate grants supplement the business counseling program, with some type of college reinvestment required by successful small business start-ups? Now is not the time to consider an operational bond to support college services and programs. With state and federal borrowing out of control, it makes no sense to add to the debt burden of taxpayers. Sierra College is a Placer County treasure that serves tens of thousands of students each year. While the knife might be sharp, and the cuts may be deep, the will to heal through various funding solutions must be explored. And the college’s Board of Trustees must lead the way.