By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Chou
MONTEREY PARK – East Los Angeles College students, already faced with a meager selection of courses, got a reprieve from $7.5 million in planned cuts to classes and services after voters on Nov. 6 approved a temporary tax measure that would mostly fund elementary, secondary and higher education.
At Left, main entrance to East L.A. College. - Photo by Margie Ramirez
Proposition 30 passed by a narrow margin and halts a $31 million trigger cut to the Los Angeles Community College District, a system of community colleges that includes ELAC.
The news came as students were about to register for winter session classes. The selection of classes was slimmer than usual, a result of college officials preparing for the worst. But officials have said they could be adding back as many as 100 more classes to both the winter and spring sessions.
ELAC’s interim president Farley Herzeg, who sent out a letter to faculty three days following the approval of Proposition 30, said that “we haven’t used the words growth and increase in an email in years.”
Community college officials said they suffered a series of cutbacks in recent years and have had to have reduced class options, as well as services that include career and college counseling. Enrolling in classes has not been an easy feat for many ELAC students, who often must enter lotteries in order to get a seat in a class they need to complete a degree or graduation requirement.
Political science professor Jeff Hernandez said his department used to offer 13 to 14 classes a semester, but until recently they were only going to offer one political science class in the winter.
“We’ve had to turn away thousands of students. It’s heartbreaking,” said Hernandez, who also serves as vice president of the ELAC Academic Senate, which serves as the voice of faculty.
Herzeg said ELAC saw the loss of 13,000 seats in the past three years, even as enrollment demand among students increased, calling it the “perfect storm for community colleges.”
The poor economy prompted many who needed new or upgraded job skills to enroll, while “tremendous cutbacks and fee increases” at California State University and University of California campuses “were directed to us and our when our funding was cut, it just really devastated us,” he said.
The tax measure would at least stop the latest attempt to cut community college funding.
“We can begin to restore what has been cut,” he said, calling the passage of Proposition 30 “fabulous and a giant leap in the right direction.”
In addition to seeing the windfall from Proposition 30, ELAC and other community college students will also see the impact of a new statewide priority enrollment policy play out in the coming months.
Students who stick to a strict educational plan will be given priority enrollment. This policy was passed by the California Community Colleges Board of Governors as a way to improve graduation and completion rates at California’s community colleges.
Some ELAC faculty including Hernandez are concerned there will be unintended of consequences if resources, especially for counseling services, are not made available to implement the policy.
While community colleges braced for possible budget cuts, previously passed bonds helped to keep on track a major facelift of ELAC, part of a $6 billion bond funded construction project across the LACCD. More buildings dating back to the early days after ELAC opened in 1945, some as old as 60 years old, continue undergo demolition to make way for a new math and science building, “student success retention” building, and a bookstore.
Students returning to classes this fall had access to a second new parking structure, and after its grand opening last month. a newly renovated Henry Miller Bailey Library. Herzeg said they expect a new baseball field to be ready by March or April 2013. The gym facility, used for a time as the temporary library, will also return to its original use.
A monthly progress report on ELAC’s construction is posted at this website.
In other news, ELAC continues its recruitment of a permanent president. This would be the second recruitment attempt since last fall when previous college president Ernest Moreno retired. The advertised position pays $160,000 to $191,000 a year plus benefits. College officials, who have formed a stakeholders committee, began reviewing applications on Nov. 2 when the submission period closed. Herzeg is the interim president and also submitted an application.