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Santa Monica College students work on math problems at the main campus math lab on Wednesday morning. SMC officials are being forced to cut 6 percent of classes offered because of budget cuts. (photo by Brandon Wise)

PICO BLVD — While the economic downturn is forcing an upturn in enrollment at Santa Monica College, it’s also cutting into the number of available classes to those new students.

After eliminating about 193 sections — or about 6 percent — from its course offerings in the spring semester, administrators with SMC said they plan on scaling back another 5 percent in the fall to combat budget cuts from the state.

The reductions, which have affected the institution’s part-time faculty, have saved the college about $500,000 to $600,000 in salary. Most of the instructors have retained positions with SMC because they only lost one out of several classes they teach. Some have lost employment altogether because it was their only section that got cut.

Part-time faculty work on a semester-by-semester contract basis with the college, Jeff Shimizu, the vice president of academic affairs, said.

Administrators worked in consultation with faculty department chairs to determine which sections to eliminate, targeting classes with low enrollment.

“Our focus was on keeping high demand classes that students need for their certificate or transfer degree,” Shimizu said.

Shimizu could not comment specifically on the college’s financial situation, noting the picture will remain unclear until after the May 19 special elections, which includes several propositions that would help the community colleges, specifically Propositions 1A and 1B.

Class sizes in some sections have grown as a result of the cuts in course offerings, growing from 18-20 students to between 30-35. The late afternoon and evening classes, which were traditionally the least popular time for students, are also filling up.

Approximately 2,000 new students enrolled at SMC in the spring semester, increasing as more people get laid off and return to school to further their credentials.

“What that means is we have become more efficient in classes,” Shimizu said.

Howard Stahl, the chief negotiator of the Santa Monica College Faculty Association, said that there are three levels of members in their union with varying degrees of protection in cases such as what the college is currently experiencing. The full-time faculty have the most protection, followed by the part-time faculty that have achieved associate status, which means they have “bumping rights” that allows them to push out another instructor when their sections are lost to get their contractual load.

Then there are the other 500 part-time faculty who are receiving the brunt of the section cuts.

He said there are concerns of the cuts moving up the ladder.

But Stahl added that the reductions in course offerings are not close to what is was earlier in the decade when it shrunk about 25 percent, taking out entire programs.

“The current financial problem hasn’t grown to that level,” he said. “Everyone hopes it doesn’t grow to that extent.”

melodyh@smdp.com