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MiraCosta approves next year’s budget with plans to spend savings

OCEANSIDE — Over the next few years, MiraCosta College plans to slowly spend its savings on making various infrastructural improvements that aim to help its students be more successful.

The MiraCosta College board of trustees approved the school’s 2019-2020 final budget at its Sept. 12 meeting.

The budget projects that the college will spend approximately $133.7 million on operational expenses like salaries, benefits, supplies, services and equipment as well as additional infrastructural improvements, like new facilities, building repair and replacing outdated software systems.

That amount outpaces MiraCosta’s expected $130.2 million in revenues, thus requiring the college to take about $3.4 million out of its reserves.

According Kristen Huyck, a spokeswoman for MiraCosta, the college is planning to invest that $3.4 million on a commitment made two years ago to replace the college’s “outdated” Enterprise Resource Planning software to support Human Resources, payroll and finance software systems.

“We will also be upgrading classroom and support services technology and investing in needed facilities construction and repairs since the state is providing little support for this in the coming year,” Huyck said via email.

The plan is for the college to gradually spend some of its savings over the next few years to make such improvements possible while still maintaining a reserve balance that is more than 15% of its general fund resources. Though the state recommends a minimum of a 5% reserve fund balance, Huyck explained that certain policies hold a higher expectation for the district.

The projected 2019-2020 reserve balance is approximately 20.4% of expenses.

Trustees also approved the actual numbers for the 2018-2019 fiscal year at the Sept. 12 meeting.

Though the original budget projected to take more than $815,000 from its reserve last year, MiraCosta actually made money — nearly $2.3 million — and was able to add it to the reserve amount, totaling approximately $30.7 million. If this year’s projections are accurate, that amount will drop to about $27.3 million.

Another priority for this year’s budget is maintaining the same number of full-time students as the college had last year. MiraCosta has experienced a slight decline in its full-time student numbers since the 2015-2016 school year, having dropped from 11,348 students that year to 10,229 full-time students last year.

“MiraCosta has been seeing a slight decline due to a strong economy, very low unemployment numbers, all while coupled with an overall enrollment decline in our high school feeder districts,” Huyck explained. “This decline is happening nationally and statewide.”

According to Huyck, enrollment at community colleges is high when the economy is bad but low when the economy is doing well.

Though there are only 10,229 full-time students projected to attend MiraCosta this year, the district serves altogether approximately 31,000 full- and part-time students.

MiraCosta is set to receive more than $1.25 million from the state to fund the California College Promise Program. The program makes the first two years of community college free for any first-time, full-time students.

“This is better than we had hoped, and it’s staying,” said Tim Flood, vice president of Administrative Services, at the board’s Sept. 5 budget workshop.

MiraCosta President and Superintendent Sunny Cooke pointed out the college didn’t know how much it would receive until the state legislature passed funding for the program in June. The uncertainty over resources made it difficult for the college to communicate the program’s benefits when recruitment began in March, according to Cooke, who added that it would take a few years for the college to develop a consistent program.

“I think as people understand the value of this, we should see more students coming as a result of that first-time, full-time benefit,” Cooke said at the Sept. 5 budget workshop.

MiraCosta is also moving forward on its Facilities Masters Plan. In November 2016, MiraCosta Community College District voters passed a $455 million general obligation bond to make improvements to the college’s aging buildings and infrastructure.

The plan spans over eight years with construction projects on each of the college’s three campuses: Community Learning Center, San Elijo Campus and the main Oceanside Campus. The district has already sold $100 million of the first of four “series” of bonds to fund the project’s first phase, which focuses on new buildings and is due to be completed by 2020. The next phase is supposed to begin in fall 2020.