Cuesta won’t cut disabled services staff

After listening to hours of reports and testimony about how harmful it would be to make any more cuts in a program that serves students with disabilities, Cuesta College trustees decided unanimously Wednesday not to cut a clerical position in the department.

The decision came two months after trustees opted not to make any dramatic cuts in hiring student note takers and others who help disabled students cope with regular classwork.

Instead, trustees decided Wednesday to wait to see if additional money comes in from the state that might head off the need to cut an estimated $174,000 from the program.

“You all have to be behind us if it gets really painful here,” board member Angela Mitchell said of budget problems the program could face in the months ahead.

Almost 30 disabled students and their advocates stepped to the microphone to lament any cuts in the program designed to make education available to those with learning disabilities.

Iraq war veterans discussed how the program should not be cut at all, as more veterans are expected to return needing its services to deal with problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

At least one woman broke down and cried when she spoke about the importance of Disabled Students Programs and Services, which, she said, gave her hope after she lost her long-term job.

Cynthia Boege talked about how she failed the high school exit exam three times. As her service dog lay quietly beside her, she talked about the lifeline the program offers in making classes understandable.

“(The program) is pretty much a safe haven for me and a lot of other students,” she said.

The issue stemmed from a need to cut about $174,000 from the program, but as testimony progressed it was apparent that cutting the single clerical position would meet only a small part of that goal. Cutting the position would have saved $17,500 for the remainder of the year, according to the administration.

The faculty and staff union leadership all suggested that the board consider waiting to see if the college will get an additional $1.1 million the state is required to give Cuesta now that it has passed 10,000 full-time equivalent students.

Board members said they were upset at how they were demonized in the debate, emphasizing that they had no desire to cut anything in the program.

But they stressed, as did the administration, that the state created a major budgetary problem when it cut categorical funds to the program by 50 percent.

Meanwhile, many colleagues and peers surrounded Linda Baggett as they mentioned her by name.

Baggett had planned to retire in December 2010 after 16 years at Cuesta, but said she was happy at the decision the board made not to lay her off yet.

Mitchell made the motion to reject the staff proposal to cut Baggett’s job. And the board instructed staff to monitor the situation and see if additional money comes in from the state that can be used to offset the budgetary crunch in the disabled students program.