Going broke in California

California community colleges could close or require a state bail-out, if a tax measure on the November ballot fails, warns a state college budget official.

If the tax initiative fails, Gov. Jerry Brown proposes cutting $300 million from the 112-college system’s $3.7 billion budget. Schools would get $340 million from the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, but that money may come too late for this year’s budget.

“I do think some districts are going to need state assistance,” said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, an advocacy group. “I don’t know how many districts would be able to survive a reduction like that and the lost redevelopment money.”

“We can’t guarantee (colleges) would have the resources to operate,” said Dan Troy, budget chief for the state college system.

The loss of more state funds would force colleges to shift their missions dramatically, said Patrick Murphy, a University of San Francisco professor who studies school finances.

Community colleges may have to cut enrollment, lay off instructors and stop offering classes at some campuses, he said, as many schools have already done.

“I do think there’s something to be said for shaking things up, but, at community colleges, we’ve done a lot of shaking up,” Murphy said. “If I were the budget officer at a community college, I would quit or go to the rubber room.”

Statewide college enrollment has dropped about 10 percent — from 2.9 million to 2.6 million — from 2008 to 2011 as would-be students have trouble finding places in community colleges and the California State University system. More California high school graduates are going out of state for a university education.