Lawmakers Pass State Budget; CFA Advocates for Maintaining Staffing Levels, Student Services at CSU

California lawmakers passed a 2020-21 state budget that reflects the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 public health pandemic.  The $202.1-billion spending plan includes a reduction in funding for the CSU to the tune of $299 million that can be backfilled if Congress passes the HEROES Act to provide federal stimulus to states. In fact, with the federal monies, the CSU would see an increase in $199 million in funding over last year.

Though the California State University has more than $1.5 billion in discretionary, ongoing reserves, the Chancellor’s Office is claiming the need to implement cost-saving measures.  A handful of campus presidents have echoed the Chancellor’s cry, reaching out to faculty directly about cutting costs in their departments.  CFA believes the reserves should be used to cover any budget shortfall to save jobs (which helps the state economy), and avoid kicking Californians and their families off health insurance during a public health crisis.  The CSU needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

CFA would also like to remind the Chancellor’s Office that the CSU’s $1.5 billion in rainy day reserves was built up mostly during the 2010 economic recession from cost savings in the form of staff layoffs and furloughs and increases to student tuition.  State audits have confirmed this fact. 

“Let us be very clear: the CSU cannot sit on billions in reserves, nor continue hiring in the management and university police ranks while cutting from the faculty providing instruction and resources directly to students,” CFA President Charles Toombs said.  

The CSU argues that only $400 million of the $1.5 billion is considered “rainy day” reserves, but the size of that portion is determined by CSU policy – policy that the Chancellor should change given the budget uncertainty.  The Chancellor’s Office also claims they are using reserves to pay down debt service on construction projects.  A sounder financial plan would be to stop making debt service commitments for buildings and instead use that funding to maintain a strong workforce that can provide instruction and support services to students. Instruction, the core mission of the university, needs to be protected. Put simply: invest in people, not things.

In providing a boost to CSU funding that differed from Governor Newsom’s budget proposal, the State Legislature directed the CSU to spend down reserves, maintain staffing levels, and refrain from increasing student tuition to cover the state funding cuts.

Despite this clear message from the legislature, the CSU sent letters in early July to all employee unions asking to meet to discuss possible layoffs.  To date, the Chancellor’s labor representatives have been unprepared to discuss the budgetary justification for layoffs.  We are able to meet with them as soon as they are ready.

CFA believes discussion of layoffs is unnecessary, given there is still time to advocate for the HEROES Act to backfill the $299 million budget reduction. Student enrollment for Fall term, though not final, looks strong for most campuses. And to be sure, the CSU’s sizable reserves are more than enough to cover the funding shortfall.

In the meantime, CFA members can familiarize themselves with Article 38: Layoff of the CFA contract.  Members should also monitor any attempts to increase or decrease workloads and increase course caps (class sizes) and report any of these to CFA chapter leaders; find contact information for northern California campuses here and southern California campuses here.  Protecting your workload also means protecting your colleagues’ jobs and livelihood.

We must ensure that the quality of the education we provide is not compromised. We have to remain active and vigilant during these trying times. CFA will continue our advocacy, at both the state and campus level, to ensure that the commitments made to our students are kept, and to work with the CSU Chancellor’s Office to ensure sound fiscal decisions.