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Santa Rosa Junior College plans to eliminate the majority of its temporary support staff, up to 500 positions, to narrow a $3.4 million budget deficit brought on primarily by declining student enrollment.

The cuts will come through job assignments that will not be renewed starting next month. The so-called short-term, non-continuing positions are spread across various areas of the campus and include custodial, ground maintenance and administrative and instructional assistant jobs.

The tally represents up to a sixth of SRJC’s workforce, and could result in a $1 million savings for the college of 36,000 students.

“It’s regrettable, but it’s something we have to do to keep the college solvent,” SRJC president Frank Chong said.

“We’ll have to do more with less or look at what we can’t do anymore,” he said. “(But) we’re trying to keep the cuts away from the classroom.”

The downsizing comes at a pivotal time for the 99-year-old campus, which is confronting budget cuts at the same time it prepares to embark on a massive capital projects campaign, overhauling existing facilities and building new ones. The upgrades are supported by a $410 million bond approved by voters in 2014.

Karen Furukawa, the college’s human resources vice president, sent an email earlier this week to employees in affected jobs, notifying them that the majority of their positions “will need to be eliminated due to a serious, long-term decline in our revenues.” Most of their assignments ended this week, she said.

The vast share of the affected employees worked less than 25 hours a week, Furukawa said Friday. Some were hired to do a few days of work under their assignment. While the jobs were never meant to be permanent, Furukawa said it’s unclear how many employees were taken aback by the decision to eliminate most of the positions.

About 150 of the employees already had completed their temporary assignment by the end of April.

She said some employees could be rehired on a case-by-case basis for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The number that will be rehired remains unclear. Furukawa said the college will have a better idea of the staffing needs and revenue after July 1.

“It certainly isn’t something the college is taking lightly. I regret we have to do this, but this is the economic times that we’re in,” she said about the staff reductions. “We’re hoping to avoid any layoffs of regular staff.”

Officials blame declining enrollment for the budget woes.

As Sonoma County public schools enrollment decreased, in part because of economic recession, so did the number at the junior college. It saw its student number drop by 27 percent over the past decade, Chong said.

As a result, campus revenue decreased. The college now needs to cut its overall spending by 2.7 percent to close the shortfall in its $126 million general fund, Chong said.

SRJC recently implemented a hiring freeze for nonfaculty positions. About 40 to 45 management and classified staff positions are being reviewed to determine whether or not they will be filled, Furukawa said. College vice presidents also have been asked to trim their department budgets, including spending on equipment, supplies and travel to conferences and professional events.

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However, college officials say it’s too soon to tell whether they’ll need to make further staff reductions.

“It all depends on our enrollment,” Chong said. “If we continue to have declining enrollment, we can’t carry the same number of people.”

Chong said he remains optimistic the college will be able to boost enrollment and restore some of the cut positions in the future. Enrollment for online classes already increased by 13 percent for this summer, he said.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to maintain services,” Chong said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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