Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Education - and the CSU - are bullseye in budget wars

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The budgets of all the segments of public education are squarely in the sights of the state government finance people as the state of California attempts to grapple with a state budget that is badly out of balance and getting more so by the day.

Among the many time bombs ticking are the ever-lowering estimates of what homes are worth (which translates into lower taxes - if tax assessors do their jobs) and the race-to-the-bottom spiral of sales tax revenues as state residents hunker down, spend less and thus cut the tax revenues that have already been counted by the state - but not collected.

In the California State University, there is the additional problem of a university chancellor who is all-too-willing to rollover on his own 23-campuses to curry favor with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed

Reed this week agreed voluntarily to give up $31.3 million dollars when the governor asked for various state-funded agencies to chip in to put sandbags in front of the budget-deficit flood.

That seems so reasonable, until you consider that the CSU has already taken a $288 million reduction this year. Originally, the governor said the CSU would have to reduce its budget by $386 million, later relenting and restoring the difference.

And now the governor has gone after a portion of that restoration money, with the likelihood he will come back and ask for more of what he "restored."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R)

The California Faculty Association - the labor union representing the faculty - is furious that Reed simply agreed to give up the money, indicating in a letter to the governor that cutting the additional $31 million (about $1.3 million per campus) will not hurt the instructional program.

That's bad enough - and arguably untrue - but the union is doubly furious because last year, when budget cuts were looming, the CFA, students, Reed and the CSU Board of Trustees all linked arms and sang a political kumbaya, forming the Alliance for the CSU to show the governor and legislators a united front, spending huge sums of money on public relations in the process, though they didn't gain any real traction with Schwarzenegger, apparently.

Part of that united front meant that the CFA would keep its criticism muted of administrative goings on, including earlier this year when the chancellor got called out for handing out a no-bid contract for more than $2.45 million several years back - a contract that he engaged in specifically to fight the union over its demands for higher wages for faculty.

In early October the university system and Reed got slapped with a $7.7 million lawsuit by the whistleblower in that case (fired by Reed in March) who had publicly raised questions about the propriety of the $4,000-per -day, no-bid contract with C. Richard Barnes & Associates, LLC, of Lawrenceville, Ga. for consulting services.

  • Whistleblower story

  • If anyone was surprised by the chancellor's actions this week, they haven't been paying attention.

    Practically since the day he took over his job from outgoing Chancellor Barry Munitz (who annoited Reed and convinced the board of trustees to select Reed without a competitive search), Reed has kowtowed to the administrative branch of government while generally thumbing his nose at the legislature.

    That thumbing this week has now grown to include the faculty and students who set aside their many earlier differences with Reed to form the "alliance."

    And it was only a few years ago that Reed required nearly all the campuses of the CSU to install and operate a complicated computer system called the Common Management System, a software and hardware package that promised miracles but mostly delivered nightmares: cost overruns, technical glitches and conflicts of interest in the bidding process. It even got blistered - along with Reed and many of his staff - in a state audit and was the subject of legislative hearings.

    The software in the system remains such a mess, that most campuses refer to it as a full-employment-for-consultants scheme.

    The other portions of the Alliance for the CSU - the faculty and students - are regrouping, trying to see they can get back the $31.3 million that Reed turned over without a fuss.

    But to do that, they need Reed to agree and tell governor that he has changed his mind and won't turn over the money so easily.

    They might as well start singing kumbaya right now and put their energies into figuring out what to do when Reed says (sometime soon) that the CSU can turn over the rest of the 'restored' money without hurting the education of the university students.

    1 comment:

    1. And the beat goes on...

      Maybe it's time to do a little more eaves dropping?