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Saturday, Oct 20 2012 10:00 PM

NICK STROBEL: If Prop. 30 fails, local community college students and faculty lose

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    Nick Strobel

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By The Bakersfield Californian

Two good things happened Oct. 15: I mailed in my voting ballot and the new president for Bakersfield College, Sonya Christian, was announced. However, both events have me thinking about -- worrying about -- the deep cuts to Bakersfield College that will be coming if Proposition 30 does not pass and how our new college president will have to deal with layoffs and turning away of 2,000 students in the first days of her tenure.

Of the two education funding proposals on the ballot, Prop. 30 is the only one that will prevent deep cuts to higher education (community colleges and universities) and K-12. The other one on the ballot, Proposition 38, funds pre-K through 12th grade only. Unfortunately, it looks like the incorrect and false arguments of those opposing Prop. 30 are swaying enough of those who don't know the real effects of the trigger cuts to public higher education funding that will happen if Prop. 30 does not pass. Well, the employees and many of students of Bakersfield College and Kern Community College District certainly know what will happen!

We're in the midst of coming to grips with a $5.2 million cut to Bakersfield College alone if Prop. 30 does not pass. By "coming to grips" with the cut, I mean that although we've been planning for the huge cut for several months now, accepting the real possibility of it at a heart or gut level is still in process. Services, supplies, etc., have already been axed from past years' cuts (we've had cuts every year since the 2008-09 school year) and the only place left to cut $5.2 million is people. That means layoffs and fewer classes for students.

A $5.2 million cut to Bakersfield College's budget means the equivalent of 917 full-time students will not be able to attend the college because the classes they need to become productive, employed, taxpaying citizens will not be offered. Since most of our students are attending part-time, you need to approximately double the full-time equivalent student number to get the actual number of students that will be turned away. (If you know how to double a number, thank your math teacher!)

For the vast majority of our citizens in our area who were not born into privilege, the only way they will be able to enter or stay in the middle class is through higher education. Community colleges like Bakersfield College are the key to that because we offer the most education for the lowest cost to the students and the taxpayer. The dollars spent per community college student in California are less than all other sectors of education (K to university). Even with all of the past year's cuts, the California Community Colleges system educates more than 2 million individual students -- more than three times all of California's higher education institutions, public and private, combined. If you want to grow the economy, you do not cut education.

Baby boomers and seniors: If a moral argument doesn't appeal to you, how about enlightened self-interest? As you plan for retirement or medical problems, think about the training of those who are going to take care of you and your needs. Those who are going to be designing, implementing, constructing and maintaining the California medical, physical and digital infrastructure critical to your future in the 21st century will need the education that only comes with higher education. Community colleges like Bakersfield College will educate the lion's share of those people.

With fewer students enrolled, the equivalent of 20 full-time faculty members will be laid off at Bakersfield College, and that will in turn lead to layoffs in classified staff and administration in order to keep the college in compliance with the 50 percent law. Many of our adjunct teachers have already been eliminated from past years' cuts.

I agree with those who say that the trigger cuts are unfair and that Gov. Jerry Brown and others in Sacramento were playing politics with the voters when they crafted Prop. 30. However, we at Bakersfield College are working with the cards we're dealt and education funding reform is not on the ballot. We know the trigger cuts are real. Sending a message to Sacramento on the backs of students is not the way to go. I voted for Prop. 30 with my mail-in ballot because it is the only proposition in this election that will prevent devastating cuts to Bakersfield College and prevent setbacks to the long-term health of Kern County.

And, heck, I have a moral obligation to my kids -- and your kids, too.

Nick Strobel is director of the William M. Thomas Planetarium at Bakersfield College and author of the award-winning website astronomynotes.com. His Stargazing column appears on the first and third Saturdays of each month in The Californian's Eye Street section.

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