Jobs extended at Cuesta College's disabled services

After five hours of emotional public comment from students, faculty and staff, three Cuesta College staff members in the Disabled Student Programs and Services office saw their jobs spared for at least another month.

Four staff members had their hours cut by the San Luis Obispo Community College District Board of Trustees, and a decision to reduce hours for six more was put off until the Nov. 4 board meeting.

Among those testifying against the cuts were disabled students, some with the aid of interpreters, saying that they could not function at Cuesta without the services the program offers. Some cried as they spoke.

After the emotional public comment at the Wednesday afternoon and evening meeting, the college trustees debated ways to partially save the three positions slated for layoffs. Their discussion included cutting back hours.

Part of the reason for putting off a decision until at least next month is because the college is still unsure of the total amount of cuts coming from the state. Cuts in state funding of up to about 52 percent are expected at this point for the disabled services program.

The program receives separate funds for state-mandated programs, as do others such as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services. Such money is called categorical funds, and such funds have been dramatically cut at levels from kindergarten through community college because of the state budget crisis.

Many students who are blind or deaf and who use disabled services spoke against the cuts, saying that the program was the reason they have been able to stay in college.

“I feel like I am being denied my education,” a deaf student told the board using a sign language interpreter. “I can’t understand what teachers say without an interpreter.”

The program offers specialized classes, alternative testing options, interpreters and recorded textbooks.

Alysha Nye, a note taker for a blind student, said she was concerned the school would be violating certain access laws if they voted for the cuts.

“It’s not a matter of if these students will sue you, it’s a matter of when,” Nye said during public comment. “If a class action lawsuit was brought and you are found liable, you put the entire college at risk.”

It’s unclear whether the board’s potential actions could be the basis for a lawsuit. The cuts amount to nearly $261,000, according to a statement by the college released Friday. Trustees in September laid off two employees and reduced the assignments of seven others as part of an effort to bridge the school’s $5 million budget gap at that time.