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Exclusive: SMC Bracing for 'Severe' Cuts Amid Projected $11 Million Deficit

Despite the college's recent successes, its president maps out a grim future.

Students who work hard and achieve high marks are often rewarded, whether it be with something as simple as a gold star or as valuable as a scholarship.

Accordingly, should be getting a bigger budget, in light of its recent successes. In December, the community college announced that it had, in one year, transferred 1,053 students to the University of California system—the first time that number had surpassed 1,000.

Also last year, SMC saw its accreditation reaffirmed—the best outcome a college can achieve. SMC's sports teams have been on tear, its events have been , and the school received  earlier this month for its energy-reduction efforts.

Moreover, as President Dr. Chui Tsang noted at the State of the City event on Jan. 27, SMC has been serving almost the same number of students despite a sharp reduction in its budget during the 2009-2010 school year. The school didn't raise fees, either.

"Last year was a spectacular year for the college," he said.

But despite all those successes, SMC is preparing to shrink instead of grow. In an interview with Santa Monica Patch on Wednesday, Tsang mapped out a grim future.

"The faculty and staff work their butts off, and they really have performed in a remarkable manner," he said. "Yet with all this success, we've been asked by the state to downsize. So, reluctantly, we have to do that."

In Gov. Jerry Brown's , funding for community colleges would be cut by 5 percent and community-college classes would cost $36 per unit instead of $26. Although he recently proposed putting an extension of temporary tax increases on the June ballot, if that doesn't happen, the implications could be even worse for SMC, which gets most of its money from the state.

The school would be "looking at much more severe reductions," Tsang said. "It [would] have a big impact on us."

Even if Brown's budget does pass, that would mean SMC will lose $5.5 million in funding—for the 2010-11 school year alone. Combined with the 4 percent reduction in SMC's budget the previous school year, it's looking at a $11 million deficit in 2011-12.

Don't even ask about a cost of living increase. The school didn't have one last year, and won't have one this year or the next.

"Next year will be an adjustment for us," Tsang admitted. "There are a lot of difficult decisions we're facing. We've already made reductions in areas we have control over which did not affect our employee salaries and benefits."

Now, though, "we're going to have to go there."

A hiring freeze has already been in place at SMC, and last year, managers at the college agreed to shift to a different health care plan as a money-saving measure. The school is going to have to ask all its employee groups to make a similar transition, but even that would account for only $1 million to $2 million in savings.

The school also plans to freeze all current salaries, Tsang said. And, perhaps most important, SMC is going to have to reduce its course offerings.

Tsang said he's been bracing students for what lies ahead.

"One of the first things I did at the beginning of the semester was talk to the Associated Students [a student-government organization], and let them know about the impending reductions in the governor's budget and the impact it will have on the college. They understand that this is happening in the context of a larger reduction in the state."

He reiterated: "The state is imposing this on the college."

Tsang said he still wants to encourage prospective SMC students to enroll in the school. He doesn't want them to be "discouraged" and points out that students facing financial hardship can apply for the Board of Governors Fee Waiver.

Still, students and faculty should prepare for tough times ahead.

Amid "all this success, we ... have to downsize," he said.

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