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Tuesday, Apr 10 2012 11:05 PM

Cuts to instruction must be minimal at community colleges

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    Nick Strobel

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By NICK STROBEL

You probably read the Community Voices article published in this space April 10 by the Kern Community College District's chancellor and Bakersfield College's president. Or perhaps you've heard from other sources about upcoming deep cuts in state funding that will lead to deep cuts in what classes Bakersfield College can offer and the reduced number of students we can serve. Last year at about this time, I wrote about upcoming budget cuts to Bakersfield College. Well, that time has arrived. Unlike many other community college districts in California, we've been able to hold off making deep cuts into our core classes because of very conservative fiscal planning by our district that built up a large reserve. That healthy reserve has given BC and our two sister colleges in the Kern Community College District, Cerro Coso Community College and Porterville College, time to prepare for some possible major cuts to our core offerings. How much we will need to cut will depend on how the vote turns out in November on proposed tax increases. Right now, Bakersfield College itself is looking at either a $3.2 million cut or a more drastic $6.4 million cut on top of the cuts that have already been made over the past couple of years.

While it is my hope that the college will cut into the noninstructional and administrative areas more than the direct instructional areas, the millions of dollars that will be lost in state funding next year will likely mean cuts into the core as well. Over the past several years, Bakersfield College has trimmed course offerings to the bone. As I write this in the middle of spring break, we're trying to figure out how to make cuts into the core in a way that will still maintain the breadth of offerings the local area communities, including those outside the immediate Bakersfield area, want from their community college. We'll also need to have some breadth of offerings from which to grow again when the California economy recovers in a few years. As any good gardener knows, if you prune too much, you weaken the plant so much that it dies. Well, we have to figure out how to trim the services of BC in the correct way.

That correct way, of course, needs to involve deeper cuts in the noninstructional and administrative areas than the areas of direct instruction in the classroom and face-to-face student services such as counseling and library. That will keep the cuts as far from the students as possible. While the district and college administrative leadership is looking into other efficiencies in the district office and districtwide operations, the faculty senate has requested the leadership to take the analysis a bit further by conducting an audit of administrative tasks to determine which tasks can be eliminated without net financial harm to the direct instruction and support of students including a cost-benefit analysis showing what compliance tasks save more money (due to avoiding potential penalties) than the expense of the staffing required to complete such tasks.

Although Bakersfield College will be a changed institution, some things will remain the same. BC is more than a place where I teach astronomy and run the planetarium. I see the college as a treasure for Kern County and one our communities greatly need. Beyond the economic boost Bakersfield College can provide to people at the individual level (higher education leads to jobs paying higher wages, which, by the way, lead to increased tax revenue to pay for all those services we depend on), BC is in the transformation business. Lives are transformed by what happens there and it's not just the students' lives. I count myself as one of those transformed lives because of the talent and intelligence of the great people at the college. As we approach our centennial next year, I hope we'll work together, enabling Bakersfield College to transform future lives for another 100 years. With your advocacy of students -- our future taxpayers and service providers -- we'll do so.

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 in The Californian's Eye Street section twice a month.

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