Riverside Community College District’s new budget aims to mitigate COVID-19 impacts

The Riverside Community College District’s budget for the 2020-2021 academic year does not reflect the massive cuts previously proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The state adopted deferrals instead of cuts in June. (Photo courtesy of Fancycrave1 | Pixabay)
By Erik Galicia

The Riverside Community College District has reduced spending in order to mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19.

The new budget, unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees on Oct. 20, does not reflect the cuts previously proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The state faced a $54.3 billion deficit earlier this year, but eventually adopted billions of dollars in deferrals when the California 2020 Budget Act was signed June 29. The state will eventually have to fund those deferrals, or there will become reductions in the coming years.

Aaron Brown, RCCD Business and Financial Services vice chancellor, said that the district’s new budget is balanced and contains a 5% reserve.

“There are no layoffs included in this budget,” he said. “There are some funds that have experienced issues, like Parking and Food Services, Performance Riverside. But the district has been covering those.”

The state’s Student Centered Funding Formula provided no extra funding for enrollment growth and no cost-of-living adjustments for apportionment this year, but additional expenditures in the district increased by around $8 million, according to Brown.

“That is an issue that we’ll have to face moving forward if the state does not pass through additional revenues,” he said.

Brown reported the district expects revenue losses totaling $3.02 million in Parking Services, $2.2 million in Food Services, $200,000 in child care and $470,000 in Performance Riverside, which was completely shut down for 2021.

“The only way we can potentially (recover) some of this money is to claim it against the COVID-19 State Emergency Block Grant funding we received for 2021,” he said. “But there are other uses for those funds that are identified, so we won’t be able to recover most of that money.”

Cost transfers totaling $2.9 million were made in last year’s budget to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, including $1.6 million for Parking Services, $360,000 for Performance Riverside, $560,000 for Customized Training Solutions and $330,000 for Community Education. 

This year’s budget includes transfers of $1.35 million for Parking Services and $290,000 for Food Services. These transfers account for lost revenues and the continued payment of employees in these areas.

The budget’s savings plan includes $5.6 million in spending reductions, including $4.03 million in deferred hiring for vacant positions, $560,000 in utility reductions, $310,000 in travel reductions and $700,000 in holding account reductions.

Gregory Anderson, Riverside City College president, argued that deferred hirings, although necessary at the moment, will not work forever.

“We have a large number of administrative positions that are not filled,” he said. “What that means is other people are picking up that work. It’s not sustainable in the long run.”

Expenditures will still allow for 16 new faculty to be hired throughout the district, and 24 other positions to be filled. The budget also provides $1.15 million in cost transfers for Disabled Students Programs and Services, but the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund for Student Success, which received $200,000 in last year’s budget, has been eliminated. Brown reported that no money had ever been spent out of that fund.

In total, $209,954,754 will be distributed amongst the district’s three colleges through the budget allocation model, which aims to prioritize fairness, equity and transparency. This is actually an increase from the previous year, which was made possible through the district’s strategic planning.

RCCD Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac warned of a tough year ahead during the Board meeting Oct. 20, but expressed confidence in the adopted budget. Brown said the district must adopt a conservative approach to expenditures moving forward.

“We have to be very diligent in what we spend to ensure that we are conserving resources to serve our students as much as we possibly can,” Brown said. “We have to keep our eye on what’s happening at the state and federal levels to see whether or not we have to react to that.”

Anderson argued the only thing that would quicken the district’s financial recovery, other than the return of a booming economy, would be if the state realizes that Community Colleges are essential to economic recovery.

“If the legislature fails to recognize the role Community Colleges play in economic mobility, they will confine us to years of recovery,” he said. “They’ll strangle the economy.”

The president also said that cuts by RCC will remain away from any aspect of the student experience.

“RCC will keep its focus on student access and success,” he said. “We are not cutting any classes. We will be expanding despite the cuts.”