Last updated on May 18, 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had immediate and catastrophic impacts on our global, national, and state economies. The statewide loss of tax revenue has had immediate and severe impacts on California community colleges, and even well-run, financially stable districts like Los Rios face circumstances more dire than the Great Recession.
Los Rios is committed to communicating regularly and transparently with its employees and community, and will use this page to post updates, external resources, and frequently asked questions about the budget.
Budget Town Hall
Thanks to the stability created by decades of strong leadership from Los Rios' board of trustees, labor partners, and administration, it is easy to take for granted the complexities of how state economic conditions impact the Los Rios budget.
On May 18, 2020, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration Mario Rodriguez broke down the Los Rios budget, and he and our college presidents discussed the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on our fiscal impact for 2020-2021 and beyond.
Impact of COVID-19-Related Budget Crisis
With state tax revenues – the primary funding stream for the California state budget – down dramatically over the past several months as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the governor's most recent budget proposal projects a $54 billion shortfall in the state budget for 2020-2021. As a result, the May Revise (released on May 14) includes substantial cuts to California schools and community colleges.
At Los Rios, we anticipate a reduction of 10% in our Student Centered Funding Formula (SCFF) allocation as well as significant reductions to categorical programs like Strong Workforce and the Student Equity and Achievement Program (SEAP). Our colleges rely on these categorical programs to provide critical supports to students.
Plans to Balance the Budget
The Los Rios budget is made up of people, so there are no easy answers to the question of how to find savings when we all recognize we were not funded adequately even before this crisis. Right now, we are considering every possible option and are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to identify the best course forward.
We remain committed to doing everything possible to mitigate the impacts on our employees and to continue providing the services that our students desperately need. We are also dedicated to continuing to be transparent with our employees, students, and the community at large about what these cuts could mean for our colleges.
The May Revise – the most recent budget projection released by the governor's office – is important for planning purposes but it is not the final budget. Between now and June 30 – when the state is required to have adopted the next year's budget – the governor and the legislature will be assessing any changes to statewide economic conditions and making any changes necessary for the final budget. Once the governor signs the final budget document, we'll know with more certainty the impacts to Los Rios and what adjustments are required.
In a typical budget year, that would be the end of the budget cycle. Of course, this is far from the typical year. Because many of the economic factors that drive the budgeting process are still very much in flux, we expect to see an update by early fall based on statewide revenue trends. Mid-year changes are challenging to manage, so it will be more important than ever that we are flexible and that we are planning for every possible scenario.
Unfortunately, we cannot make up for the loss of state funding with increased enrollment. In challenging economic times like these, the state caps the number of students we can serve. In this case, the proposed 2020-2021 budget caps our enrollment at 2019-2020 levels while providing us less resources to serve the same amount of students. This means that we will have to find ways to serve students more efficiently than ever before.
Before the crisis, as part of the transition to the new Student Centered Funding Formula (SCFF), community colleges in the state had been promised three years of "hold harmless" funding, ending after the 2020-2021 budget year. Unfortunately, with less state revenue to go around, the state will not have the resources to make good on that commitment.
The "hold harmless" is still technically in place, in that cuts to colleges will be made proportionately based on the previous funding levels. Essentially, with the 10% reduction in SCFF funding, the state will be holding us "harmless" but only giving us 90 cents on every dollar we have earned.
Will federal stimulus dollars, state Rainy Day Fund, and Los Rios reserves protect Los Rios from having to make cuts?
One-time funds like federal CARES Act funds, funding from California's Rainy Day Fund, or Los Rios' own reserves can help bridge the gap and prevent us from falling of a fiscal cliff in the short-term, but are not long-term solutions to balancing the budget. About half of the one-time federal CARES Act funds was required to be used for direct payments to students, and most of the rest was needed to cover the significant costs of taking our colleges online up to and through the fall semester.
Unfortunately, experts are projecting that the economic impacts of this crisis will last several years, so we will need to use any one-time funds – including our own reserves – judiciously, to minimize disruption to our students and employees.
As of now, there are no plans to institute an across-the-board furlough for Los Rios employees like the one that Governor Newsom has proposed for state workers. We are, however, considering every possible option and are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to identify the best course forward. We remain committed to doing everything possible, while still following our negotiated contracts, to mitigate the impacts on our employees and to continuing to provide the services that our students desperately need.
How is Los Rios protecting its core value of equity-mindedness in the midst of potentially dramatic cuts?
The Los Rios colleges are built upon a shared commitment to serving historically underserved communities and to the values of equity and inclusion.
The looming financial crisis will test these commitments in profound and challenging ways. Together, we are committed to doing everything possible to mitigate the impacts on the most vulnerable students we serve. But we must also be honest that continuing the same level of service with fewer resources will be challenging, and in some cases impossible.
We remain committed to being transparent throughout all budget discussions and to a thoughtful assessment of who would be impacted by cuts, should they need to be made. Our commitment to doing what's best for our students is, and will always be, central to every decision we make.
We recognize that the move to remote operations has altered the work of many employees in the district, and specifically for classified staff whose work may be dependent on being on campus. Though we have redirected the work of certain classified staff, as appropriate, we do not currently have plans for any large-scale redeployment of classified staff, and we are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to consider every possible option. As we look for new ways to serve students online with even fewer resources, it will be more important than ever that we are as flexible and creative as possible.
We are working closely with all of our collective bargaining partners to look at revenues and projected cuts in the context of our bucket system, which drives allocations to employee groups. At this time, given the uncertainty in the state budget and the depth of potential cuts, it is highly unlikely that salary enhancements or retro checks will be possible.
Los Rios and our labor partners have a longstanding practice of prudent planning to prevent or mitigate negative impacts on employees, with the understanding that, should the budget dynamics improve, we will work together on appropriate next steps.
Because the state caps the number of students we can serve in economic downturns, we will unfortunately experience a reduction in sections and available classes for students. In this case, the proposed 2020-2021 budget caps our enrollment at 2019-2020 levels while providing us less resources to serve the same amount of students.
Our instructional offices are working closely with faculty to build an instructional schedule that best meets our students' needs and maximizes access. For students unable to get the classes they need, we will redirect them to open sections where appropriate and adjust future schedules to accommodate increased demand for specific courses whenever possible.
Can full-time faculty or staff voluntarily take a temporary pay cut to save funds that could be used to offset cuts?
One of the things that makes Los Rios so great is our collaborative approach to solving problems like the one we are facing now. We are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to consider every possible option within the context of our negotiated contracts to mitigate the impacts on our employees. With a cap on enrollment from the state, our ability to be efficient with the number of sections and classes we offer will impact our ability to maintain other programs and services for students.
We are working with our collective bargaining partners to explore every possible option, including the possibility of an early retirement incentive. If and when this becomes a viable option, we will work with our collective bargaining partners to communicate the details to employees.
If the governor's budget proposal comes to fruition and we are forced to make significant cuts to our general fund as well as categorical programs, then there won't be any part of our organization that does not see an impact. Districtwide cost-saving measures already underway including a hiring freeze on all positions at the colleges and district office, and we have already begun making some reductions to districtwide expenditures. If we come to a time when negotiated reductions are necessary, then district and college leadership will be ready to lead by example in making tough sacrifices to benefit our students.
From a state apportionment standpoint, there is no difference between the district and the colleges as we are funded as one entity. As a result, it will be in the interest of our students and all of us to look for new opportunities for greater efficiency among our four colleges.
Are there opportunities to end external professional or service agreements or technology licenses to save money?
We are looking at every possible way to save resources, particularly those that don't impact our valuable employees. If there are opportunities to review existing service agreements or licenses that are not serving students well in this environment, then we will absolutely review and consider all of those options. With our shared commitment to student achievement, there will be a heightened need for technology solutions to help students navigate online education in the coming semesters and beyond. Often, the most significant costs from technology implementations, for example, are up front and, as a result, sunk costs. That said, we will explore every viable opportunity to save resources in every aspect of our organization.
The Los Rios budget is made up of people, so if we are required to make the type of devastating cuts that are projected it will be impossible to eliminate all impacts to the hard-working employees in our district.
We recognize that the move to remote operations as altered the work of many employees in the district, and specifically for classified staff like custodians whose work may be dependent on being on campus. We are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to consider every possible option, and as we look at limited scenarios where employees and/or students might be on campus in the coming months we will have to implement appropriate cleaning protocols to keep our people healthy and safe.
One of the most difficult dynamics of budget cuts to California community colleges is the impact to adjunct faculty and temporary classified employees, a group of people who are critical to the success of our colleges and who rely on their employment with our district. We are considering every possible option and are working closely with our collective bargaining partners in the context of our negotiated contracts to identify all of our options and the best course forward. We have to be honest that we will likely not have the funds to keep all of our hard-working adjunct faculty and temporary classified staff, though we remain committed to doing everything possible to mitigate the impacts on our employees and to continue providing the services that our students desperately need.
We will continue to employee students through the Federal Work Study program as long as those funds are available. Outside of Federal Work Study – or any other funding source that is dedicated for this purpose – we will likely not have the funds to continue to schedule many of our student employees, though we remain committed to doing everything possible to mitigate the impacts on our employees and to continuing to provide the services that our students desperately need.
What will Los Rios do about programs that rely entirely, or almost entirely, on adjunct faculty or temporary classified staff?
We know that there are some academic and student services programs that rely largely, or even exclusively, on temporary classified staff and/or adjunct faculty to operate. We are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to consider every possible option for these programs within the context of our negotiated contracts, with the goal of maintaining as many programs as possible for students.
What resources or supports are available for an employee who has their work schedule altered or reduced?
As we consider difficult options to address this budget crisis, we owe it to our adjunct faculty, temporary classified employees, and student workers to do everything possible to support them in these uncertain times.
There are several resources available to assist anyone impacted by job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- OnwardCA is a new website launched by Governor Newsom's office to help match out of work Californians with part-time or full-time job opportunities in their communities.
- The State of California's Employment Development Department (EDD) is the agency that handles facilitates unemployment insurance claims. The website has detailed information about available benefits and eligibility, as well as a step-by-step process for securing benefits. In some cases, depending on your job and your work schedule, EDD benefits can actually surpass your current take-home pay.
- The US Department of Treasury has information about the CARES Act federal stimulus package, if you have questions about eligibility or how to make sure you get your check.
- Western Center on Law & Poverty – The Worker's Guide: Your Rights During the Coronavirus (PDF)
- Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) is the agency that helps connect local residents with employment opportunities.
Would Los Rios generate more state funds if its colleges each became single-college districts? Would it save money?
The short answer is no, it would be significantly more expensive to run four separate single-college districts as opposed to one multi-college district. The state of California funds colleges on a per student basis, so our colleges wouldn't get any more funding separately than they do together.
If each college operated independently, however, then there would be massive new costs at each college to start each one's own human resources and business offices, just to start. Additionally, in other areas such as facilities management and information technology, the economies of scale of a large multi-college district amount to significant resource savings. All of these costs would be crippling, even before accounting for the costs, and timeline, necessary to ask voters to elect four separate Boards of Trustees, a requirement of the California Education Code.
Our colleges could never find the resources to set up and run their own operational infrastructure even in good economic times, let alone in the midst of a massive funding cut.
Yes. More and more, our colleges are working together to coordinate and align services to students, which benefits the thousands of students who take classes at multiple Los Rios colleges and also creates potential opportunities for efficiencies.
As we consider how to continue essential services for students in the midst of this budget crisis and a hiring freeze, we will look for ways to work together to deliver districtwide service more efficiently and save resources that could mitigate impacts on students and employees.
As of now, there are no plans to institute an across-the-board layoffs for anyone, including probationary employees. We are, however, considering every possible option and are working closely with our collective bargaining partners to identify the best course forward. We remain committed to doing everything possible, while still following our negotiated contracts, to mitigate the impacts on our employees and to continuing to provide the services that our students desperately need.
Use the following resources to learn more about COVID-19 and budget impacts at the national, state, and local levels.