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COLLEGE MEASURE PLANNED FOR '06 ADVOCATES SEEK LOWER TUITION FEES.

Byline: Sue Doyle Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - While this year's special election is still six days away, some in the community college world are already making plans for the 2006 ballot.

Although their initiative is still in its final drafting stages, when done it will take aim at school funding, student enrollment fees and community college governing boards.

Discussions about the measure began about a year ago, but organizations behind it said they didn't push to include it in this year's election, in part because they don't want it tangled in the long list of propositions already on the ballot.

In addition, this grass-roots campaign hopes to raise about $4 million to market Proposition Community College, far less than the mega-millions pouring into the initiative's dominating this year's election.

But without changes to California's community college system, doors will close to thousands of students within the next 10 years, said Scott Lay, vice president of the Community College League of California, a Sacramento-based nonprofit group that's spearheading the effort.

``We're trying to take away the yo-yo budgeting of community colleges, which is an impediment of the gateway to the middle class that our schools are supposed to be,'' Lay said.

And that starts with tuition costs. The initiative calls for a reduction of student enrollment fees at community colleges to $20 per unit. These costs, which are controlled by the state Legislature, have fluctuated from $11 in 1998 to $26 today. The community college system began with free enrollment.

Those fees are keeping some out of community colleges, because students can't predict their budgets on costs that change, said Dianne Van Hook, president of College of the Canyons.

``When they increase fees after students are already enrolled, that's kind of hard,'' said Van Hook. ``How can they plan?''

The measure also seeks to change the system that funds community colleges through Proposition 98, which also provides money to kindergarten through 12th grade schools. Community colleges are supposed to receive about 11 percent of money from the fund, while elementary schools through high schools receive about 89 percent.

But community colleges have lost about $4 billion from Proposition 98, because the percentage they were entitled to under the law from the fund has fluctuated over time, with residuals going to kindergarten through 12th grade institutions, said Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

Lightman said they don't expect to get the $4 billion back, but they want to set a new strategy for moving forward.

``While no one in the colleges wants to harm K-12, we don't feel that either side is respected when K-12 is taking money that's legally due to the colleges,'' Lightman said.

In addition, the measure wants to prohibit the Legislature from wiping out local governing boards of community colleges.

California's 109 community colleges are being asked to help collect the 598,105 signatures required to get this initiative into the hands of voters next year.

Among those ready to start knocking on doors is Annie Yang, president of the Associated Student Government at College of the Canyons.

Yang said that $20 per unit is a reasonable fee and a good compromise from what students are paying today. She said today's tuition gouges into students' budgets.

``Students attend community college so they can further themselves in their careers and put food on the table,'' Yang said. ``It's awfully ironic that they have to pay a huge amount and don't get to have that comfort.''

Also included in the coalition Californians for Community Colleges that's behind this initiative is the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild.

The Nov. 7, 2006, election includes the race for the governor's seat and many other elected officials.

Sue Doyle,(661) 257-5254

sue.doyle(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 2, 2005
Words:628
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