Merced educators, students glad to avoid budget cuts

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comNovember 12, 2012 

— Education officials in Merced are celebrating the passage of Proposition 30, which will provide financial relief for their institutions.

The initiative will prevent higher education from having to shed millions more in state funding, increasing tuition and cutting back on courses.

"We are thrilled about voter approval of Prop. 30, in part because the University of California will not face mid-year cuts, and our students will be spared from the mid-year tuition increase," said Patti Waid, spokeswoman for University of California at Merced.

Voters on Tuesday approved Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, which will increase sales tax by one-fourth of a cent for four years and will increase income taxes for those earning more than $250,000 annually for seven years. The increases will help provide relief for public education institutions that are struggling with funding.

Merced College officials said the initiative will provide community colleges an additional $210 million in funding this academic year. That will help Merced College restore several classes that had been slated to be cut from the spring 2013 schedule, according to college officials.

Under the 2012-13 budget approved by the Legislature and signed by Brown, the UC system would have faced mid-year cuts of $250 million in state funding if the tax initiative had failed.

In addition, students would have faced mid-year tuition increases of as much as $2,400.

Jacob Gutierrez, a senior political science major at UC Merced, said he was a little upset that an initiative had to be developed in order to invest in higher education.

"It's unfortunate that's how it had to be taken care of," the 21-year-old from Los Angeles said. But at the same time, he said, it's good news because he has faced a tuition increase almost every other year at UC Merced.

"The idea that it would be a $2,400 (tuition) increase does bring a little piece of mind," said Gutierrez, director of academic affairs for the student government.

No specific plans

Waid said there was a chance that UC Merced would have been affected by the planned cuts if Proposition 30 hadn't passed, but the school had no specific plans.

"We had been looking at a variety of different scenarios, but no specific cost-cutting measures had been planned to date," she said.

RoseMary Parga Duran, Merced City School District superintendent, said she is more than elated with passage of Proposition 30 and said the district needed some financial breathing room.

"We are not out of the woods completely," Duran said, "but it does relieve pressure on what we would have had to do. We would have to have made more drastic cuts."

Kris Cavallero, the district's chief budget officer, said a $4.4 million loss was projected if Proposition 30 had failed.

UC President Mark Yudof on Wednesday morning released a statement on the passage of the initiative.

'Represents an opportunity'

"The passage of Proposition 30 represents an opportunity for California and its political leadership to put public higher education back on a pathway toward fiscal stability," he said.

"This is an opportunity of great importance, not only to the University of California and other higher education segments, but also to the state as a whole, and we cannot afford to let it slip away."

However, this won't solve all the financial challenges for schools, officials say. Officials will continue to move forward with other plans to save money and generate new revenue.

"While Proposition 30 provides assurance to Merced College of a 'status quo' budget for the current year, we still have budgetary challenges due to the cuts endured over the last two years," Merced College President Ron Taylor said in a statement.

"Our intention is to continue with our process of reducing costs and considering other avenues for new revenue, so that we can confidently sustain quality learning opportunities for our citizens into the future."

The same goes for UC Merced. Given the state's ongoing fiscal crisis, Waid said, the university will continue to focus its limited resources strategically.

"We are not out of the dark yet," she said. "We're still not out of the woods."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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