When Sean Donnell began teaching at El Camino College in 1998, it was "boom town." The community college system was growing, teachers were receiving a cost-of-living allowance (now frozen), and students were flocking to enroll.
"We all know what happened," Donnell said. The recession.
"And community colleges in particular get hit very hard because its kind of hard to justify taking money away from a kid going through compulsory K-12 education and its funded through the same money. But out of all the higher education systems in the state, we serve the most, we serve more than UC and CSU combined."
Donnell is not only an English professor at the college, but he is also the chief negotiator for the El Camino College Federation of Teachers, Local 1388.
These days, on the the first day of classes, Donnell is used to now seeing a line 30 students deep outside his class hoping to get in — inside sit the other 30 students already signed up.
"In the last year, at the beginning of my classes, every single one of them, day class, night class, it doesn't matter, I'll have anywhere from 10 to 30 students looking to add," Donnell said. "And I have to send them away. I literally can't service that many students. The limit on a composition class is 30, and a lot of times I'll even add a couple over [but] I'm doing them a disservice if I add like 50 students to a class. It's hard to grade that many papers."
Donnell has taught two winter session classes every year it was offered by the college since he started teaching at El Camino. This will be the first year he does not teach the winter session because budget cuts have forced the college to pare down significantly. Next year there won't be a winter session.
Though El Camino College is called a two-year public college, it has often taken students longer to graduate even before budget cuts hit, Donnell said. But the cuts do impact them moreso now.
"A lot of times they're just going to have to wait, they're going to have to be pushed back," Donnell said. But he also said the budget toll has not only been felt among students.
"As much as I feel for the students, do you have any idea the number of colleagues I've lost as a part of this?" Donnell said. "Part time employees are always hardest hit. They don't have any rights under contract. They're at-will employees."
Donnell said the college has shed "scores" of adjunct professors in the last four years. "A lot of people have lost their jobs."
"We've got this row of mailboxes, and they're all full," Donnell said. "You look at them now, and there's another empty space, there's another empty space, there's another empty space."
A group of students are proposing administrators take a salary cut to help even out the pain of the budget crisis. But Donnell said that wouldn't be fair.
"Everybody is suffering from this, from the top to the bottom...If there's an across-the-board cut, then I could see it, but I think it would be unfair to ask administrators to take a cut in pay just as a group. They do their job."
Donnell said a roughly $250,000 savings would perhaps translate to three or four faculty members and maybe 20 sections.
"I understand a quarter of a million sounds like a lot of money, but when you're dealing with tens of millions of dollars..." Donnell said. "It definitely wouldn't help that many students graduate in two years."