Interim Chancellor Joan Smith spoke with The Bee about her first month at the helm of the Yosemite Community College District.
Q: You were president of Columbia College. How is the chancellor's job different?
A: There's so much more responsibility. Now I have to keep the whole district running. The job of the chancellor is to be sure these colleges are fiscally fit five years out, 10 years out. As a president, I was involved more in daily operations. With fall semester starting, this is a very busy time on campus. I think mine is one of the more boring jobs to talk about. I pore over contracts and budgets.
Q: Is the state not passing a budget affecting community colleges?
A: Yes and no. The federal grants help, but our primary funding is through the state of California. We have to keep going, business as usual. The budget (mess) is there, but you can't stop all business. It's just all up in the air. We have reserves. We survive. However, survive for how long? A few months, OK -- but a whole year, no. In 30 years, I've never seen anything quite like this.
Q: Are budget cuts changing how you provide services?
A: We're continually being asked to do more with less, and therein lies the challenge. We're compressing services, but eventually you've hit every efficiency. It's a complicated system, but basically we get X amount of dollars for serving X amount of students. ... We establish a budget -- yes, we're counting on this money. But then the state sometimes makes mid-year budget cuts and says that's all you're going to get. ... It's a very fluid process. But we've been very conservative and very prudent in our projections and our budgeting -- we make a really good, educated guess and we cross our fingers.
Q: What does this year look like from your desk?
A: We're doing accreditation self-studies. That's where we look at our programs and check how we're doing. ... We have our Measure E bonds, all that building going on. The thing to remember (in this recession) is to plan for recovery. The critical thing is to plan, and be creative. We can't stop offering all sorts of classes (lose that faculty) and then just start up again. We have to look to the future.
Q: What role do you see the community colleges filling in this recession?
A: We provide an amazing service. We really are the educational resource of the community. We take students heading to universities, students with vocational goals, students needing job skills. We have middle college programs for high schoolers. We have extension programs and classes for seniors. We reach out to grade schools with programs like "Mad About Math" in Columbia. At (Modesto Junior College) we have the civic engagement series. Our community education classes classes have everything from cooking to business skills. We rent out our facilities to the community. ... If you're not familiar with us, there's something we have to offer everybody.
What we do is like no other educational system in the state. If we ceased to exist, the gaping hole in our community would be devastating. Dollar for dollar, what we give to the community is immeasurable.
Q: What stamp do you hope to put on the district in this one-year post?
A: This is about the third year of being fiscally constrained. We have to be sure that our own internal work force is able to continue, that the faculty, staff and administrators aren't getting burned out. It's kind of the stamp of the time. I'll be working internally to be sure people are fully supported. Keeping innovations going requires a high level of creativity. The wonderful thing about the community college system is people who are here really like this kind of work. Positive spirit -- that's what keeps this district going. We get to see students succeed.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.