SJSU in the News: Incoming President, Tech Exec Testify Budget Cuts Striking Mortal Blow on Economy

California educators warn lawmakers about dangers of further cuts to schools

Originally published in the San Jose Mercury News May 7, 2011

By Tracy Seipel

A blunt message was delivered to five members of the state Senate budget committee Friday at the valley’s Microsoft campus: Either stop the cuts to public education or watch California’s economy die, taking with it the success of Silicon Valley and the rest of the Bay Area.

Those dire warnings came from a panel of high-profile Bay Area educators and business leaders, who spent three frustrating hours describing what a future without a well-educated, well-trained workforce would look like here.

If poorly educated citizens can’t adapt to an increasingly competitive global marketplace, local companies will continue to hire a smarter workforce outside the United States — and possibly relocate their operations as well, the speakers said.

“By 2025, California will have a shortage of 1 million college graduates,” said Mohammad Qayoumi, incoming president of San Jose State. “A lot of companies in our region will have no choice but to leave because they won’t find the level of employees and college graduates they are looking for.”

Added Amir Mashkoori, CEO and chairman of the tech firm Kovio and a San Jose State alum: “This is something we will pay dearly for if we don’t invest in human capital. You have to figure out what to do to survive in order to thrive.”

Kim Polese, a prominent Silicon Valley executive and UC Berkeley alum, told the audience of about 60 who attended the event that “the rest of the world won’t stand still. China has been studying the UC system very carefully, and they’re replicating it “… UC has historically been able to attract the best students and faculty from all over the world, but that winning formula won’t continue if we keep cutting.”

Leaders from UC, CSU and community colleges talked about serving significantly more students than a decade ago but receiving less funding than they did then. And absent permanent solutions, they said, the deficits will persist for years.

“We’ve done a good job accepting the first round of cuts,” UC President Mark Yudof told the committee, after detailing the loss of staff, courses and operations throughout the UC system. “But any more, and all bets are off.”

Yudof and those speaking after him were referring to the pending showdown in the state Legislature that will either result in a compromise that will include revenue extensions to protect schools, public safety and local governments, or an “all-cuts” budget.

In March, legislators agreed to about $11 billion in spending cuts and other reductions. But a $15.4 billion budget hole remains — and if legislators cannot come to the table and agree to extend taxes, a worst-case scenario is likely.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says that will mean $4.5 billion in additional cuts to K-12 education, $847 million in additional cuts to the universities and $685 million in additional cuts to community colleges.

Senate budget committee Chairman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, acknowledged the reality.

“We have a chronic structural imbalance of our budget, and there’s a clear need for long-term solutions, or it will not get solved,” he said.

Only five of the 16-member committee attended the session at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, but the majority were from the Bay Area.

In addition to Leno, Sen. Elaine Alquist, D-San Jose; Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland; and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, seemed to share the view that further cuts would be disastrous to public education.

“We all need to understand what the consequences are if we fail to get it solved,” Simitian said after the session ended. “Bleak does not even begin to describe” the scenario if public education endures further cuts, he said.

But Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, who listened patiently to the education leaders, dismissed many of their comments as hyperbole.

“This is Halloween in May,” Emmerson said afterward. “This is just scare tactics.”

Emmerson is one of the GOP 5 — five Republican lawmakers who tried to bridge differences with Gov. Jerry Brown on GOP demands for a pension overhaul and spending caps, until talks fell apart in March.

And now, he said, with the state’s tax revenues healthier than expected, schools will not be as threatened.

Indeed, the state is running $2.5 billion ahead of earlier projections. But the governor’s office says that will be little help in closing a $15.4 billion deficit.

State Finance Director Ana Matosantos said Friday that lawmakers and Brown also have to consider possible cost increases in areas such as education, health care and prisons.