|Written by La Voz de los Trabajadores|
|Monday, 09 May 2011 16:47|
|What follows are a series of observations on the state of affairs at Santa Monica College and some avenues that exist for students and workers to find an advantageous solution to the difficulties stemming from continued local budget cuts. Since 2009, the Santa Monica Community College District, headed by Superintendent/President Chui Tsang, has implemented a succession of cuts to the operating budget of S.M.C. that have severely reduced not just the amount of education provided by the College but also its quality, and have left students & workers in a state of anxiety and uncertainty over how much further the cuts will stretch.
As of Fall 2008, the yearly offered class sections have been reduced by nearly 900, over 12%! The results are well-known: increases in class size, over-crowding, difficulties in maintaining quality of instruction, etc. This is in addition to the now accustomed scene of thousands of perspective students scrambling for classes at the commencement of each new semester. Thousands of people have been turned away.
As class sections are cut, members of the faculty, and particularly the part-time faculty, have had their instruction hours cut with loss of pay, while others have been completely laid-off. At least the staff have had their yearly cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) withheld & a campus-wide freeze on hiring has been placed, exacerbating previous problems in the under-staffing of departments, particularly in student services and instructional support.
Yet it is the future plan of cuts that the District is laying out that will represent the most severe attack on students, workers, &the educational system at S.M.C. Plans to cut Winter out completely as well as severely reduce or eliminate Summer hang over the campus. In addition to postponing the educational goals and transfer time of students, workers will lose weeks in pay while the Associated Students will have to forfeit all member dues for Winter, resulting in a decrease in the services and functions the A.S. can perform.
S.M.C. students and future students face a radically reduced educational system and likewise, S.M.C. workers are in the middle of one of their most important contract fights with the District. After months of negotiations, both campus workers unions, the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Local 36 & the Santa Monica Faculty Association (SMFA), representing the staff and faculty respectively, are in a stalemate with the District (who, in a bid to intimidate the unions, hired lawyers to conduct negotiations on their behalf). What is at the center of the fight are healthcare benefits. The District is seeking to cap its contribution to employee healthcare plans, which will either force workers to downgrade their healthcare plan or to increase their out-of-pocket contribution by up to $800 a month.
President Tsang and other top officials of the S.M.C. administration have been arguing that cuts are necessary to deal with the reduced funding coming from Sacramento and that these cuts should come from classes, from supplies, from worker healthcare benefits, in short, from students and workers. And yet what faculty and staff have been arguing, and what the history and data of S.M.C. tell us, is that the cuts being made only represent the priorities and interests of the Senior Administration, and are not inevitable. Consider this: the greatest cuts to classes occurred between the 2008-2009 and the 2009-2010 academic years, in which the Senior Administration drafted budgets projecting deficits for both years of $9 million and $1.8 million. In 08-09, 7430 classes were offered. In 09-10, 6551 classes were offered. Under the auspices of these deficit budgets, nearly 10% of classes were slashed. But the actual budget for both years left a surplus of $600,000 and $1,000,000 for 08-09 and 09-10 respectively! That is to say, plan for the worst, cut the most, and if reality does not bear such a heavy deficit, the College is already restructured away from instruction and quality jobs.
What do the freed up funds go towards? Well, since 2007, an already over-staffed administration has added numerous personnel towards its payroll. In the midst of almost 1000 class cuts, two more vice presidents were added, and the total salary of Vice Presidents’ has increased from $850,000 in 2007 to over $1.5 million in 2010, almost double! As students and workers are experiencing the most severe attack on their rights in decades, President Tsang brings in $25,000 every year, just from his bonus. This is in addition to an interest-bearing account set up exclusively for the President, car and cell-phone allowances, and innumerable other perks.
This only highlights what many S.M.C. faculty & staff will say in private (and some with the passion and job security to say in public): that the Senior Administration runs the College like a business where students are only numbers in calculating state and federal funding. And, like any business, the top brass must be adequately compensated.
The faculty and staff have made repeated efforts at identifying ways to save funds without attacking the basic educational services of the College. At the top of these lists are always two items: reduce legal and consulting services. In addition to hiring lawyers to negotiate with the worker’ unions (a process which has reportedly cost hundreds of thousands already), the District recently hired a consulting firm to look into savings the College can make. The price tag: half the savings identified, which amounted to ½ of $300,000, or $150,000. The question of whether this should be the work of administrators’ aside, a separate consulting firm offered to conduct the services for free.
Such incidents of mismanagement and waste abound in District spending. If a serious reduction was implemented in lawyer and consulting services, coupled with cuts in other unnecessary expenditures and even a modest reduction in the scope and compensation of the administration, and particularly the senior administration, a very different budget reality would exist. But this requires a struggle to move the budget cuts off the back of students and workers and onto the privileges, perks, and priorities of those running the College.
How Students & Workers Can Win a Fair & Just Budget
Among the first needs of building a successful campaign of students, faculty, & staff for a fair budget and a fair contact for workers is to counter the budget proposal of the District with one of our own. Various steps have already been taken to identify areas of savings and new means of funding. Now we must take these ideas and unite the students and workers under one unified counter-budget behind which we can gather the support of the entire S.M.C. community. We can then tell the students, the workers, and the community, “Here is the budget plan we have identified that preserves the education of students and the wages and benefits of workers. Here are the areas we have identified for cuts and savings and this is what the President proposes to cut.” And if pose in tem WAP, Wim vai tem following:
-cut the Winter semester or cut consulting and legal fees?
-cut workers’ health-care or a modest reduction in the highest levels of administrative compensation?
-cut paper supplies for instructors or get rid of those ridiculous cafeteria flat-screens
If we frame the debate this way, every student, worker, and community member will be forced to think about the budget in partisan terms and is more likely to support our fight for a fair budget.
In order to push this struggle forward, we will need to bring the fight not only to Board of Trustee meetings, in budget committee meetings, at the Academic Senate, etc. but also and, even more importantly, on the campus grounds and in the community, combining the struggle of arguments and facts with the social power we have through direct and mass actions. To place demands and put forward arguments in negotiations and at Board of Trustee meetings (and we should do this) without demonstrating the consequences of not meeting our demands (through rallies, pickets, sit-ins, etc., media actions to bear public pressure, all the way up to student and worker strikes which will paralyze the campus and show who truly has power in the College) is to ask a general to capitulate when all he sees is disorganization and white flags in the ranks of your own army. We must take our fight outside of closed meetings and into the streets and to the people who will support us.
Finally, in order to carry out this prolonged struggle, we will need organizational spaces that will sustain our fight and meetings that will provide students and workers the chance to discuss the current state of affairs and decide on collective strategies of action. For students, this can take the form of individual organizations (such as the grass-roots Student Unity Project at S.M.C.), a coalition uniting student clubs, groups, departments, and even classes, and a Student Mobilizing Assembly, an organizational space that much of the international student movement and here nationally, notably at U.C. Berkeley, have used which combines open discussion with a democratic decision-making process to decide on what issues and by what methods students can fight.
Workers in unions already have an organization that unites them that is capable of providing them with a place for discussion and collective action. Yet the reality is that participation in both the faculty and staff unions is low, that many workers do not see their union as carrying out an effective resistance to attacks on their rights and working conditions, and with weak mechanisms for workers democracy. Efforts to effectively fight the cuts must include regular membership meetings in which workers can openly discuss different strategies for fighting the cuts and the formation of some kind of Worker Action Committee open to any worker to further develop resistance strategies for adoption at general membership meetings. There are also many workers at S.M.C., designated as temporary, who in actuality have worked for years at S.M.C. but are not part of the unions and who have no rights, no job security, and are among the lowest paid school employees. To strengthen their position, the formation of some type of association, closely linked with the established unions, will greatly benefit not only the defense of temporary workers but the entire workforce at S.M.C.
And finally, in order to facilitate cooperation and solidarity, students and workers should form a Student-Labor Solidarity Alliance to unite the struggles into one powerful movement.