CUNY community colleges suffered a $12.3 million reduction in base aid in the State budget adopted in March. Now Mayor Bloomberg is ready to add to the pain.
Under the Mayor’s budget proposal, CUNY’s six community colleges would be shortchanged by $63.1 million. They would receive $37.2 million less than in the adopted budget for the current fiscal year, while another $25.9 million in mandatory expense increases due to increased enrollment, rising heating costs and new programs, would go unfunded. The mayor has also proposed eliminating a number of Council-funded programs that assist vulnerable students, such as Safety Net financial aid and the Black Male Initiative.
“The impact will be nothing short of devastating,” PSC Secretary Arthurine DeSola said in testimony before the City Council’s Higher Education Committee. “Our community colleges are bursting at the seams. Enrollment has increased 33% over the last eight years, but public funding to provide each student with a quality education continues to drop.”
The PSC’s organizing this spring did push State legislators to limit Gov. Cuomo’s cut to community college base aid. The governor’s proposed cut of $226 per full-time equivalent student (FTE) was scaled back to $138 per FTE, a difference of 39%. In January, the union had worked with allies on the City Council to win restoration of $4 million in City support, reducing Bloomberg’s proposed midyear cut of $11.8 million by about a third.
Now, the PSC is mounting another campaign to persuade City Council to reverse the mayor’s latest round of proposed cuts. On Thursday, May 5, the union will hold a major demonstration at City Hall to demand an end to economic austerity for CUNY. A rally outside City Hall at 4:00 will be followed by a march to BMCC, located a few blocks away.
“The moment has come for a public demonstration of support for our vision of CUNY,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen.
The pushback against the cuts will continue with the union’s annual “CUNY at the Council” day on May 11, and other grassroots lobbying of Council members (see below for details). The union is urging full restoration of the $63.1 million shortfall, $19.6 million in funding for Safety Net and other Council-funded initiatives, and $12.3 million to cover the loss in lost State support.
LaGuardia Chapter Chair Lorraine Cohen and BMCC Chapter Chair Joyce Moorman highlighted the day-to-day impact of budget cuts when they testified with DeSola at the March 18 City Council hearing.
“At the library you’ll see a line of 50-100 students at 9 o’clock in the morning trying to get access to a computer so that they can do their research,” said Cohen who teaches a sociology class of 38 students. “If you go to the admissions office, you will see lines of students waiting to be registered because professional staff have not been replaced.”
LACK OF RESOURCES
Moorman said that a chronic lack of resources hinders her ability to teach effectively. “In my piano class, the pianos with broken wires aren’t fixed for months on end because there isn’t money for skilled workers or the wire,” Moorman testified. “The audio equipment for my digital music course malfunctions so often it undermines my teaching.”
Moorman also described how the number of BMCC security guards, clerical staff, and buildings and grounds personnel have been reduced by previous rounds of budget cuts, with an impact on campus safety. “The buildings aren’t secure,” she told the Council. In one recent incident, two female students were sexually assaulted on campus.
In addition to the $63.1 shortfall in community college operating support, Bloomberg has also proposed zero funding for a range of City Council-supported programs at CUNY such as the Vallone Scholarships, Safety Net financial aid, the Black Male Initiative, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, the Dominican Studies Institute, the Murphy Institute for Worker Education, and the Creative Arts Team. The PSC is pressing for these programs to be funded at their 2009 levels, a total of $19.6 million.
Many of these programs provide important support to CUNY students who face the biggest obstacles to securing a college education. CUNY community colleges had 91,000 students as of Fall 2010, of whom 66% were black or Latino and 46% came from households earning less than $20,000 per year.
Heidi Lopez runs Kingsborough Community College’s Single Stop program, a one-stop center that helps students access public benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid and workforce development programs. She testified that the burden of Bloomberg’s budget cuts would fall most heavily on the CUNY students who can least afford it. “These budget cuts are racist, classist and sexist,” said Lopez, a HEO who began working at KCC in 2009.
The May 5 demonstration will demand full public funding for CUNY, and link this to the need for decent working conditions and a good union contract. It will be followed by the union’s annual “CUNY at the Council” day on May 11, when more than a hundred students, faculty and staff will meet with legislators in the City Council’s offices at 250 Broadway. The PSC is also organizing meetings with councilmembers in their local neighborhood offices on April 29, May 6, and May 13. “If you are tired of budgets that cut CUNY, you can do something about it,” said the PSC’s DeSola. E-mail Amanda Magalhaes (or call her at 212-354-1252 x221) to sign up for any of these dates or for more information.
PSC chapters are mobilizing for upcoming May events. At Queensborough Community College, most of the chapter’s April meeting was devoted to the May 5 and May 11 actions. Close to 70 members watched short videos of recent union actions, including the March 23 direct action in Albany and the April 9 “We Are One” rally for union rights in Times Square. Participants then met in small groups to brainstorm about outreach to other members. Each person committed to speak with at least two or three of their colleagues.
“The message has gotten through that this is a critical time,” commented QCC Chapter Chair Judith Barbanel.
Councilmembers are also getting attention from QCC in their home districts. The chapter’s vice-chair, Joel Kuszai, told Clarion that teams of faculty and students will be meeting with councilmembers Mark Weprin and Daniel Halloran, both of whom have offices within walking distance of QCC.
“We’re putting the community back in community college,” Kuszai said. “The levers of power at a local level are not so far away.”