STUDENT ORGANIZERS at Santa Monica College tried to make their point during a rally to protest eliminating the college’s winter class schedule. Photos by Gary Walker

The Santa Monica Community College District Board of Trustees adopted a budget Sept. 6 that will eliminate the winter session for 2013, the latest in a series of decisions that has driven a wedge between the college administration and a group of student organizers who pleaded with the trustees not to cancel the winter class schedule.

The budget that was approved did not include instructional costs for the winter session, which would have begun Jan. 3, 2013 and ended Feb. 9.

According to Director of Fiscal Services Chris Bonvenuto, SMC’s budget deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year will be $4.02 million.

“With the continuing budget reductions that we are faced with and with the uncertainty of a midyear reduction, the college board is not scheduling a winter session so that we can minimize the effect of any change that may happen with the tax proposal,” said Santa Monica College President Dr. Chui Tsang.

The tax proposal that Tsang was referring to is Proposition 30, a ballot measure that if approved by the electorate on Nov. 6 would increase taxes on wealthier residents and raise the state’s sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent.

Education advocates say that without funding from the ballot proposition, deep reductions in school funding will occur.

A group of student organizers led a protest march around the campus an hour prior to the board meeting. Chanting slogans such as “our school is not your piggy bank,” the organizers – many of whom participated in demonstrations at the college earlier this spring – claim eliminating winter classes would further harm students who are on the road to graduation.

Many also see this move as the latest in a series of decisions that goes against the concept of higher education.

Samaria Gomez, one of the student organizers of the campus protest, was mildly hopeful that the trustees would delay voting on eliminating winter classes or vote against the proposal.

“I hope they listen this time, but actions speak louder than words,” the student organizer said.

The decision to cancel winter classes came on the same day that an internal report was leaked that suggested that a pepper spraying incident April 3 outside the boardroom could have been avoided if the SMC administration had more police officers on campus.

The widely reported review of the police action where student protesters angered over a proposed two-tiered education system were pepper sprayed by Santa Monica College police cites members of the Student Organizing Committee.

The review recommends that the college “take a firmer approach in dealing with the SOC and other groups in the future that are desirous of organizing large gatherings.”

Earlier on April 3, students held a press conference to protest the planned implementation of contract education at the community college, in which the summer pilot program would have cost students $180 per unit for English, mathematics and science, which are some of the most highly sought courses.

The internal report also faults the college administration for not heeding the Santa Monica Police Department’s recommendation to hold the meeting at a different location.

“Following an incident involving the use of pepper spray by the college police at the April 3, 2012 Board of Trustees meeting, Santa Monica College Superintendent/President Tsang created a review panel chaired by Campus Counsel Robert Myers to conduct a review of the police response independent of the internal police investigation.

“Ultimately, the confrontation would never have occurred if the police department’s earlier request for a larger venue through proper channels, in March 2012, had not been denied,” the report concludes.

The Board of Trustees decided to table the proposed two-tier plan after state Community College Chancellor Jack Scott intervened.

A panel of SMC officials will now examine the report’s findings. SMC spokesman Bruce Smith released a statement from the college administration after an inquiry by The Argonaut.

“The (SMC) review panel has been directed to consider all concerns raised about the college’s response and make such recommendations as it deems warranted on the policies, practices and protocols relevant to the college’s response to this incident and demonstrations and similar events in general,” the administrators wrote.

“The review panel is currently reviewing video, reports, participant and witness statements and is gathering additional information as questions arise. Among the documents being reviewed by the review panel is the internal police report. It is anticipated that the review panel’s report will be completed by the end of the year.

“Representatives of the college will be available for comment upon completion of the ongoing internal review and issuance of the review panel report,” the statement concludes.

Looming in the background of the decision to cancel the winter session is Proposition 30.

The ballot initiative championed by Gov. Jerry Brown is seen by many, including Tsang, as one of the last best attempts to fend of what he called “catastrophic” cuts to education if the measure is unsuccessful.

“This will have a devastating effect on education in California if it fails,” Tsang said.

Gomez said the elimination of the winter session will prevent some students from obtaining their core class requirements, which in turn will set back their plans to transfer to a university.

“There are a lot of low-income students who come here and are trying to complete their math and English (requirements) and then their classes are being cut,” she said. “That means that their ability to transfer is being delayed.”

Tsang said many community colleges have cancelled their winter sessions, which he said typically do not have as many students as spring and fall months.

“Pedagogically, it affects the smallest number of students and has the least impact on students’ progress,” he explained.

Gomez, who was a member of the student organizing committee that protested the two-tier education plan, believes that students who are not as financially stable as others will likely bear the brunt of the board’s decision.

“This means that many students are going to be pushed back another semester when they could be transferring within a year and for others who have financial needs they might have to go back home and say, ‘Mom, Dad, I have to be here another semester,’” she said.

Tsang said the passage of Prop. 30 could help bring back future winter sessions, but not in time for 2013.

“We have scheduled the classes that the state has given us money for and that is without a winter session,” the college president said. “But we are hopeful that with the passage of Proposition 30 we can restore the winter session in the future.” ¤