University system holds conference on budget

The California State University system held a live web conference on Friday to discuss the 2015-16 budget plans. Student media from all 23 CSU campuses were invited to attend and encouraged to ask questions regarding next year’s budget.

CSU employee compensation was at the forefront of the discussion regarding budget issues. Graduation efficiency was also mentioned a few times throughout Friday’s webcast. Part of the 2015-16 budget will go towards hiring several hundred more employees in hopes of creating more sections to add to the class schedules across the CSU.

Ryan Storm is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for budget, and he began the conference discussing how the 2015-16 CSU budget will be allocated. The total state budget amounts to $115 billion, with $5.1 billion being made available for the California State University system.

“The state appears to be in a good fiscal position,” said Storm. “The CSU remains optimistic that continued growth in state revenues will mean that the CSU will remain a top priority of the state.”

The Great Recession reduced the CSU budget by 1/3, or roughly $1 billion, and Storm explained that since the Great Recession, “[The CSU] is now 80 percent out of that hole [created by budget cuts].”

The CSU system strives to make higher education available to all Californians, and Storm says, “The preliminary support budget proposes a 3 percent enrollment increase.”

This increase would result in $54.6 million in additional revenue to add to next year’s 2016-17 budget. The Assistant Vice Chancellor for budget also explained the importance to CSU to keep tuition at current levels, which have remained the same since the 2011-12 academic year.

Laurie Weidner, the CSU assistant vice chancellor for public affairs, went into detail about the current collective bargaining process on a three year labor contract signed in 2014. There is a huge gap between what CSU employees are demanding and what is actually available to them in the current budget. Now, CSU employees are represented by the California Faculty Association.

Negotiators representing the CSU system are offering a 2 percent salary increase and the CFA is proposing a 5 percent salary increase. This gap is huge, with what CSU is proposing, the total cost for employee compensation for the 2015-16 budget would be $32.8 million. With CFA’s proposal, that cost would raise to $101.7 million, and additional clauses in the contract would add another $40 million, bringing the total gap between what both parties are demanding to $108 million.

That $108 million could add 16,800 new students and 1,000 additional tenured faculty, as well as 16,000 new class sections to the system. This would make California State University campuses even more accessible to Californians seeking higher education. Negotiations continue with mediation that is set for Oct. 8, where both parties hope to reach an agreement.  

“We value our faculty, we value all of our employees and we’ve made compensation a priority,” said Weidner.

The budget plans for 2015-

16 would like to add an additional 800 faculty, facilitating in graduating more efficiently. Weidner said, “The reason we are hiring more faculty, is it enables us to add more class sections so that we can serve our students in a more efficient manner and ensure that they are graduating in four, five and six years.”

The California State University has been criticized a lot in recent years since all of the budget cuts that took place as a result of the recession. The delicate balance to remain committed to student success as well as offering qualified and experienced faculty by compensating them competitively, remains a challenge.