How community colleges could cut costs

Mar 18, 2013 by

The state’s 72 community college districts spend tens of millions of dollars on administrative positions that could be consolidated or shared by districts a short drive away, a California Watch analysis has found.

That’s money that could be spent educating students at a time when state budget cuts have shut so many out of the system. At the start of the fall 2012 semester, more than 470,000 students had been wait-listed for classes at community colleges statewide.

More than half of the state’s community college districts are within 20 miles of another district. And the vast majority of those districts have a single college. If these districts shared administrators, they potentially could shave millions off their expenses.

Take the Napa Valley, Solano and Contra Costa community college districts, which together oversee five colleges. The district offices are within 15 to 25 miles of each other.

Combined, they serve 81,000 students – fewer than the City College of San Francisco’s 85,000. The three districts have at least 125 other executives and managers on their staffs.

Jobs duplicated

Together, the three districts had three chief business officers, five directors of campus facilities, three athletic directors and three public relations chiefs in 2011.

In all, there were 12 key executive or administrative roles that overlapped across all three districts. Salaries and benefits for these 39 people totaled roughly $5.8 million. The cost of stipends and benefits for three boards, plus the average annual cost of trustee elections, totaled $379,000.

Consider: If the districts could consolidate and reduce these costs by two-thirds, the savings would total more than $4 million – money that could, for example, pay for more than 800 additional class sections taught by adjunct faculty members.

For many community college districts, such potential savings may never be realized because the system of local districts is so deeply entrenched. In fact, obscure statutes in the California Education Code make it all but impossible to save money through merging districts – at least in the short run.

Students have borne the brunt of cuts to the system. They have been slapped with fees that have risen 130 percent in the past five years and have been unable to get into the classes they need. But the status quo has been protected.

The state’s 72 districts keep payroll and other data in different formats, which makes comparison difficult. So California Watch focused on 16 districts, taking into consideration the availability of detailed payroll data, geographic proximity and district size. The group of 16 districts had duplicative executives or managers in 21 positions, not including chancellors and presidents. A total of 253 individuals cost the districts $30 million in salaries and at least $7.9 million in benefits in 2011.

The state Education Code prevents districts from laying off any administrators for the first two years after merging, making it more difficult for districts to save money by consolidating.

As the ranks of elected community college trustees have swollen, their power and profile have diminished. The state pays for 442 community college district trustees, including an average annual cost of $5 million for elections. But the authority of these elected board members weakened significantly 35 years ago when voters approved Proposition 13, which transferred control over revenue from the boards of trustees to the state.

History gets in the way

Unlike the centrally managed systems for the California State University and University of California, community colleges sprouted up largely as extensions of high school districts. That helps explain why they’re organized into 72 locally governed bodies dotting the California terrain, each with its own bureaucracy.

How community colleges could cut costs – SFGate.

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