One of the taxpayers’ constant concerns is whether our public agencies are living within their means.
We all know the pain of passing up some desirable object because of the cost. Governments constantly have to face the same reality. They are in the business of improving lives, so virtually all of their potential goals can be vigorously defended as good and just and necessary. But are they affordable?
This perennial question is plaguing the Ventura County Community College District with particular urgency these days.
The district is facing severe financial shortfalls. Enrollment is down at the main campuses in Oxnard, Ventura and Moorpark. Some academic programs are duplicated at the three locations, when a single program would suffice to serve the interested students.
Other programs persist even though only a handful of students are signing up. These students can become vocal when their cherished class is slated for cancellation, and this draws attention from the press. In the case of the two separate student newspaper programs that are scheduled to be consolidated into one campus, the students created their own press. A headline in the student newspaper proclaimed their anger in bold print: “Seeing red.”
And this, of course, is just what the district is seeing — the budgetary kind of red. Out of California’s 72 college districts, Ventura’s ranks near the bottom — 63rd — in the size of its financial reserves. Yet the district has some of the lowest state revenue per student: It is ranked 64 out of 72 in dollar cost per credit hour.
At the same time, employee salaries and benefits constitute a whopping 88 percent of the district’s expenses. This is the fourth highest salary-to-expense ratio in the state.
These figures are according to state sources.
These numbers tell a simple story. The college district must make cuts or face disaster.
Chancellor James Meznek grasps these realities. He is prepared to make adjustments and is willing to engage in a dialogue with the various affected interests. Some of his critics charge that he doesn’t seem to care about them or their favored programs. It is difficult to project a caring image, however, when swinging the budgetary axe.
Nevertheless, Chancellor Meznek would do well to connect with his constituents, even as he eliminates the classes and benefits that they want to keep. It would be a shame, and worse, if critical fiscal corrections were shouted down. In the end, something has to give.
Although challenged, the district is sound and will remain so — as long as its leaders continue to remember that what is good and just isn’t always affordable.
— Don Facciano, Camarillo