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Leaders of Oakland City Colleges Cautiously Optimistic For New Semester

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Some of Governor Jerry Brown's education proposals have some leaders at Oakland's community colleges worried that classes will cost more for students.

Despite a shining report by Peralta Board of Trustees President Cy Gulassa at Wednesday’s State of the District Address, the future of Oakland’s community colleges is receiving mixed reviews. 

“This morning the sun is bright. Millions of dollars more are in our budgets,” Gulassa told a crowd of faculty and staff at the Odell Johnson Performing Arts Center at Laney College. “2013 is the only year in my eight years that shows promise.”

Ron Gerhard, the district’s vice chancellor of finance, however, was slower to offer such praise for the coming year. 

“I share cautioned optimism about moving forward,” he said. “Those of us who have been in this a while can never anticipate what the state will throw at us next.”

While the vice chancellor did praise the passage of the Measure B parcel tax and Proposition 30 - which will generate approximately $5.5 million for the district and avoid a 15 percent budget reduction - Gerhard is cautious in part due to a series of new proposals put forward by Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Among the proposals affecting community colleges is a 90-unit cap on the number of units a student can take and for which the district could receive funding. Students exceeding the cap would be required to pay the full cost of tuition. 

Currently, California residents pay $46 per unit. Under the proposed model, California residents with more than 90 semester units would be forced to pay the non-resident tuition rate - or an additional $190 per unit. 

According to Gerhard, the governor also has proposed a change to funding allocation at the college level. The new proposal would replace funding allocation based on enrollment and shift its emphasis toward course completion.

Under Brown’s new proposal, community colleges also may take over the responsibility for adult education from the K-12 system, funded by a block grant. 

Another cause of Gerhard’s worries is the governor’s budget. The budget, which includes $196.9 million in base apportionments for California’s community colleges, calls for continued workload reductions and an expected deferral of $15 million in state funding. 

The district does expect an additional $700,000 in funding from Proposition 30 to serve 175 new full-time students. However, Gerhard stressed that a one percent increase in enrollment funding still leaves the district well short of the $8.5 million in workload reductions it has lost since 2009.    

“We should not look at this as growth, but restoration,” he said.

In spite of the vice chancellor’s concerns, Gerhard and District Chancellor Jose Ortiz announced the addition of 21 faculty members thanks to funds from the Measure B parcel tax. 

“We can’t bring them on right away,” Ortiz said, “but administration recognizes the need to fill full-time faculty and how they make us successful.” 

Gerhard anticipates the new faculty, only six of which will be non-instructional faculty, will be on board by fall of 2013.

But teachers old and new may find empty classrooms when classes begin Jan. 22. According to Ortiz, despite adding nearly 200 class sections district wide, students aren’t signing up and some sections may be cancelled. 

“Unfortunately, classes are not filling like we hoped,” Ortiz said. “There is an expectation in Proposition 30 that we meet a ceiling of 700 full-time enrolled students. We’re not there, but we’re approaching that number.”

On accreditation, the chancellor hopes that “by the next time the accreditation commission looks at the reports we can go beyond the sanctions and get back to the students.” The district has been under sanctions from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges since 2010 due to concerns over its fiscal solvency and administrative inconsistencies. 

“We’re doing the best we can to provide the report that best reflects the work we do,” Ortiz said. “Win or loose, we’re all in this together.”

 

Source: Oakland Local [http://m.oaklandlocal.com/article/peralta-district-begin-spring-semester-cautioned-optimism]

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