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State of Texas
State Budget Shortfall Impacts Community Colleges
by Garrett Bryce
Friday, January 21, 2011

The Texas Legislature issued its preliminary budget proposals this week with House Bill 1, putting forward cuts in budgets for higher education, with area community colleges possibly receiving additional cuts in the next biennium, and the state considering complete de-funding of four community colleges.

The state is expecting a shortfall of $15 billion to $26 billion, depending on factors of growth. Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently issued her reports the state's revenue estimates for 2012-2013, which projected revenues of $72.2 billion for the biennium. News Release

“The overall budget news is not very good,” Galveston College President Dr. Myles Shelton said.

All levels of education have received cuts, including public schools and universities.

“Even though universities in Texas account for 12.5 percent of the state’s budget, the cuts we suffered accounted for 41 percent of the total mandated reductions,” University of Texas System Chancellor Franciso Cigarroa said in a statement issued Thursday. Statement

“For community colleges, we know that what we call formula funding was reduced per year from $929 million to $856 million,” Shelton said. “Times two for the biennium budget numbers. In a formula fund, that's a cut of around eight percent. The problem is those cuts weren't evenly divided across the board.”  Listen: MP3  Real Player

The cut in spending would reduce Galveston's state appropriation from $4.4 million to $3.2 million.

The state is also proposing cuts to employee and retiree health insurance funding by 83 percent, according to Shelton.

“Those are funds we would have to make up and have to spend because we are part of the statewide insurance group,” Shelton said.

Galveston College also had received “Hold Harmless” funds and Small School Supplement funds, which are also being cut. The total loss is estimated at more than $2 million, under HB1, Shelton said.

“It's a pretty significant loss of state support to Galveston College and other colleges as well,” he said.

Shelton noted that the numbers are still preliminary, and can change, and said the bill is the “first step” in the process to approve an appropriations bill at the state level in May.

The uncertainty comes at a time when colleges are considering their own budgets for the coming fiscal year. Galveston College's Board of Regents will be holding a meeting of its finance committee on Monday to discuss the issues with House Bill 1.

“We don't want to panic at this point and time certainly, we don't want kneejerk reactions, but we do need to make sound decisions with the best information available in an appropriate climate,” Shelton said.

“The Senate bill we will see sometime next week,” he said. “We would expect the overall numbers too look very similar to the House Bill, but how they allocate those numbers could be very different.”

Alvin Community College Dean of Financial and Administrative Services Dr. Darryl Stevens also noted having to plan a budget for the college with an uncertain figure for state allocations.

“That's the difficulty, is until the session is over, or until the special sessions are over, we're not going to be sure what our target is going to be for next year,” Stevens said. Listen: MP3  Real Player

ACC had received approximately $8.5 million before the state asked colleges to implement a total of 7.5 percent in budget cuts during the past year's budget.

“We're looking at everything,” he said. “We're looking at utility savings, we've already instituted, we've already instituted quite a few cuts in utility costs. We have some open positions, we're not really sure we're going to fill all of them, or we're going to fill some of them.”

The college's division chairs will also be studying their budgets for additional cuts.

“The problem is that we're pretty lean at Alvin as it is right now,” Stevens said.

The cuts come at a time when community colleges are receiving high enrollment rates, with the colleges having to provide services to more students. Stevens said enrollment has “skyrocketed” at ACC.

“That's the kind of strange thing about this economy,” he said. “When the economy is bad, community college goes way up.”

Alvin Community College could see more students if a proposal in HB1 to completely halt state funding to Brazosport College in Lake Jackson goes through.

"We are working very hard to remedy that situation, as the process moves forward," Brazosport College President Millicent Valek said.

On Thursday, the college received a visit from State Representative Dennis Bonnen to discuss the issue of no state funding for Brazosport.

"He is a very strong advocate of ours and is thoroughly convinced that this is not a decision that should have happened in the first place and that he will be successful in remedying that situation," Valek said.

She said that the city and area industry is "very concerned" about the college's budget, and that the college is  " one of the major economic development engines" for the area.

The college's industry partners include Dow Chemical, BASF, Conoco-Phillips, LNG, South Texas Nuclear Operating Project, and others, according to Valek.

The college also marked the past spring semester as its highest enrollment in its 41 year history she said.

"It's very puzzling that we're in this situation and having to focus energy on this, but we are here to stay, not just for this year and for many years to come," Valek said.




Jim Guidry Commentaries


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