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Sierra College board mulls program cuts

Automotive, construction vocational studies on the chopping block
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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The latest round of cuts at Sierra College likely will slash construction, automotive and agriculture programs. Faced with an $11.2 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, the board of trustees meets Feb. 2 to consider a proposal that would also impose a 5 percent salary reduction for all employees, mandatory furlough days and elimination of 35 positions and six of 17 athletic programs, according to a Sierra College press release. The end of the construction technology program is a very personal loss for Ed Wicks, who retired last year after 30 years as an instructor in the department. “The school is saying (the decision) was determined based on declining enrollment, high operating costs and lack of employment for students,” he said Tuesday. During Wicks’ time on the staff, approximately 6,000 students passed through his classes, many of them learning the trade, but others returning to acquire new skills or upgrade their training for existing jobs. “I think it’s sad for the community,” he said. “All the programs being closed are vocational. Sierra will be looking at just transfer students. If you look at the numbers, a whole lot of students are being left out if they’re not transferring. People not going to a four-year school need to learn a trade to earn a living. They come out with a skill that makes them employable and tax-paying citizens.” Construction contractor Fred Tuttle wonders what kind of impact the program’s closure will have on maintaining an adequate pool of trained workers. “I’m concerned about finding people with hands-on experience who can read plans and know how to do bids,” he said. “(The program) is not a commodity that can be replaced right now. Things like this, once canceled, they never come back.” Tim Busk, owner of Heritage Painting, said he is a great example of the success of vocational programs. “I was born and raised in Auburn and went to Placer High,” he said. “I took every shop class there was. Then I went into a trade school through a union, and then went into business for myself. I’m living proof that those programs work. I’m very passionate about the programs because I’m involved in the Placer County Contractors Association, serving as president for four terms, and was president of Boys & Girls Club of Auburn for three years.” Busk has also taught wood finishing for 29 years in the Sierra construction program. “I don’t think money is the issue,” he said about the proposed cuts. “The issue is our administrators don’t realize the value of the programs. What we need is community support, industry support and student support. I’m sure with those three key support items, the programs will continue.” Alex Wong, a 10-year teacher in the automotive technology program, said the closure would impact most of the 330 students enrolled this semester. “Our program is 100 percent filled,” he said. “Right now, 63 percent of the students go on to get jobs in the automotive industry. The No. 1 priority is jobs. Our goal is workforce development. Our program gets people employed.” The automotive program in nearby community colleges is full, likely forcing students who want to enroll or continue studies to opt for private technical institutes, where tuition fees can be $30,000, Wong said. For construction technology students, Cosumnes River College is starting a program. But for cabinetry and furniture making, the closest training is in Redding or Los Angeles, Wicks said. The decisions haven’t been made yet. They’ll be made after the board reviews the proposed cuts at Tuesday’s meeting, Area 5 Trustee Bill Martin said. “I think the staff has had to face up to the fact that cuts have to made somewhere,” he said. “They went through a very involved process to decide the least damaging places to make the cuts. It’s no fun for anyone. …What’s been decided is the result of detailed and careful analysis and consideration by the staff — President Leo Chavez and his team.” Martin said he’s seen a lot of interest in keeping the automotive program in particular. “The main thing is that our revenues are down so much from the state, there’s no possibility to avoid cutting in a variety of places,” he said. Trustees bought some time and delayed the pain of cuts last year by electing to use reserves, Chavez said in the press release. “(This gave) us time to work through our collaborative process and come up with an approach that is as fair and balanced as one could hope for during this difficult time,” Chavez said. It’s possible that not all the decisions on cuts will be made Tuesday, Martin said. “Some may be continued beyond that for awhile if there are recommendations the board wants to review or change,” he said. Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com --------- Sierra College proposed cuts Automotive Technology Construction Technology Agriculture Men and women’s golf Men and women’s tennis Women’s track/cross country Men’s water polo Sierra College board of trustees meeting, 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, Detrich Theatre, Rocklin campus Community comments at 4:15 p.m.