Op-Ed: Legislation to Divert Funds Would Hurt CSU

On September 15, 2022, Capitol Weekly published this Op-Ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education:

With more than 132,000 graduates every year, the California State University (CSU) is critical to the success of young people in our state and to meeting California’s needs for an educated workforce.

The California Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom worked together through the budget process this year to support the CSU on many initiatives to improve student success and increase access to higher education.

But now a measure headed to the governor’s desk for his signature would require the CSU to divert funds from student services and graduation initiatives and could lead to tuition increases and academic and faculty layoffs.

The bill, SB 410, is a last-minute “gut and amend” bill championed by the CSU Employees Union to mandate a step salary structure for non-faculty bargaining units. While CSU supports salary improvements, SB 410 provides no additional funding to achieve this goal: Implementing it will cost the CSU $287 million in the first year alone, and the CSU estimates implementation would  cost as much as $878 million over 10 years.

The CSU, in partnership with its staff unions, requested but didn’t receive the $287 million needed to begin implementing SB 410. That means that SB 410’s enactment would require CSU to divert funds from its student support services and from Graduation Initiative 2025, which is its ambitious program to increase graduation rates for all CSU students while eliminating opportunity and achievement gaps.

CSU also would need to consider reducing other critical academic services, increasing tuition and laying off academic and faculty staff to implement SB 410.

The Cal State Student Association called for the state to identify sources of funding to implement SB 410 to ensure it “will not cause harm to students…Raising tuition or cutting essential student support is an unacceptable way to fund a step salary increase system.”

Also essential to student success is the ability to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and staff.  The CSU has recognized that it needs to revisit and improve compensation to achieve that goal. It recently ratified contracts with its union partners and nearly all employees received a general salary increase totaling approximately 7% over fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

The CSU also partnered with its staff unions to secure $2 million in last year’s state budget to conduct a study of the CSU’s staff salary structure. The study, conducted by Mercer Consulting,  produced recommendations in April that included creating new pay ranges and job frameworks within a step salary structure.

The CSU and CSU Employees Union signed  a Memorandum of Understanding to negotiate implementation of the salary study recommendations in a separate collective bargaining process.

SB 410 would circumvent this collective bargaining process – even as the CSU remains committed to working with unions to determine the implementation process. It will also set a precedent for circumventing other collective bargaining processes.

As co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, a group of dedicated supporters outside of the state’s higher education system who are committed to the success of the state’s world-class public education system, we call on the governor to reject SB 410 and give the CSU and its unions the opportunity to reach agreement through the collective bargaining process.

The collective bargaining process is the only sure way to achieve a fair and competitive salary structure that will be financially viable and won’t impinge on student success or on the very important initiatives launched by the governor, Legislature and the CSU to increase the number of graduates and ensure access to public higher education in California.

Dick Ackerman, Fullerton

Mel Levine, Pacific Palisades

Ackerman is a former Republican leader of the California Senate; Levine is a former Democratic member of Congress. They co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.