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Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong announced Wednesday that all summer and fall classes will be held as planned, a reversal of his controversial decision to cut classes to help plug a $6.5 million budget gap.

Instead, Chong said the Day Under the Oaks, the college’s long-time open house and community education fair which had been scheduled for May 6, will be put on hiatus while a variety of cost-cutting measures are explored by a broader array of groups.

The decision was made Wednesday after he met with representatives of student government, faculty and management groups that drove home to Chong the need for a more collaborative decision-making process at the school, he said.

The junior college enrolls about 28,000 students each semester.

Chong acknowledged the announcement of the cuts, which were supposed to save $2 million, was handled poorly, and realized such decisions need to be made in a more “transparent and consultative” way in the future.

“I’m humbled by this week,” Chong said. “We all make mistakes and we all must try to learn from those mistakes.”

The decision about the Day Under the Oaks, which began in 1978, comes as the junior college is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The move was recommended by the fair’s planning committee and was expected to save about $40,000.

The decision was, in part, an acknowledgment that in times of budget constraints, it was crucial to “focus on the essentials, and that is the classes.”

It was Chong’s plan to slash the number of summer classes in half that provoked angry pushback from students who said the move would affect their graduation plans and financial aid. Some said the unilateral move, made without input from students and faculty, showed Chong was out of touch.

Chong described the fallout as the biggest crisis of his six years leading the college.

“I am hopeful that this (decision about classes) will relieve the concerns that students, faculty and staff have expressed so that we can all move forward together to accomplish the mission of this college, which is to provide students with an excellent education,” he said in an emailed statement about his decision. “I have heard you and have taken your words to heart.”

Aware that the savings from the Day Under the Oaks was a fraction of the cuts needed, Chong said he was moving forward with a plan to consolidate management at the school and cut management pay, beginning with his own.

Chong earned $307,470 last year plus $24,230 in health benefits. He gave no hint of the depth of the cuts he was proposing for himself or his management team, saying he planned to meet with them Friday to discuss details.

“I will lead that effort. I’m the highest paid employee, so we have to lead by example,” he said.

The school’s total budget this year is $160 million, $124 million of which was for salaries and benefits. An approximate 5 percent cut across the board would appear to solve the school’s projected deficit. A 5 percent cut to Chong’s salary would save about $15,000 a year. The discussion Friday will involve actual reductions to salary, and/or reductions in expected raises, Chong said.

He said he was not discussing nor had he heard any talk of layoffs.

It may be that an overall strategy to restore fiscal health needs to include “becoming a smaller college,” but how that would happen was not totally up to him, he said.

“Ultimately I make the decisions, but now I have a lot more people around me helping me think it through,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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