State budget woes concern but don’t deter college president’s goals

Saddleback College President Tod Burnett stands above a clay mock-up of the forthcoming veteran’s memorial that is located in the lobby of the Student Services Center. (Oliver Yu – The Lariat)

Tim White

The task of entering any organization, as an outsider, is an intense proposition for anyone.  Saddleback College President Tod Burnett believes he brought a fresh outlook and the tenacity of a seasoned veteran to his job while addressing some major budgetary situations.

This is Burnett’s first time as a college president but the new man in charge seems to have a handle on things.

For instance, in the past, maintenance has been performed on a reactive basis, rather than taking a long-term approach, he said. The goal is to become more efficient on our management of facilities infrastructures.

“I found that we have an enormous [unfunded] scheduled maintenance backlog of about $115 million.”

Three months into Burnett’s tenure, the stock market collapse set a chain of events in motion that brought to light the dire state of California’s economic situation.  Now state budget woes are responsible for the largest education cuts the state has ever seen. The state’s matching funds for construction projects are on hold, Burnett said.

“Our district does not do a bond, so we rely heavily on these matching funds to leverage the funds we do have to get our constructions done,” Burnett said.

The college is paid by the state per full-time student, or per group of part time students that equal the amount of time a full time student would spend here.  If the base funding apportionment from the district is cut, then the college will be affected directly.

Additionally cuts at many of California’s four-year universities are projected to draw more students to community colleges. 

The possible budget cuts will prevent Saddleback from growing to match the potential enrollment increase, Burnett said. 

The worst-case scenario that students may see, from the state’s budget situation, is a proposal to raise fees from $20 a unit to $26 a unit, Burnett said. 

This is particularly drastic as there have not been measured and timely increases in the fees, as per the UC and CSU schools.  It cannot be overlooked, however, that California has the lowest priced community colleges in the nation.

“If there had been five percent increases, a buck a year, we wouldn’t be in this position,” Burnett said.

Despite these funding hurdles, and the extreme cutbacks taking place at other community colleges, Saddleback is less affected by the budget situation, Burnett said. 
Saddleback has the benefit of being a basic aid school that’s funded by local property taxes.  

While Saddleback won’t be suffering layoffs that other schools will, it is expected to feel the budget crisis, especially on the facilities, where a lot of state money has been spent in the past. 

“We are looking at every element of our campus to find a better way of doing things,” he said.

Burnett has also been spending time examining how the college is set up and finding areas to attain the best synergies and improve students’ opportunities for success.

“Improving communication infrastructures has probably been one of my top goals,” Burnett said, “and my biggest achievement.”

His first mission was to revamp the college’s strategic planning process by establishing a framework for the development, prioritizing, and implementation of goals and strategies to ensure resources are properly allocated and that the college maintains its desired vision of the future. 

The process took most of the year and touches virtually all decision making processes on campus.

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