$11.8M in COVID-19 relief funding could help SBCC with budget woes

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Ryan P. Cruz, Editor-in-Chief

City College is set to receive an additional $11.8 million in COVID relief funding, as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest proposed budget.

Superintendent-President Utpal Goswami reviewed the budget report at the most recent Board of Trustees meeting and said the new funding comes with fewer spending guidelines, meaning the college can use the money with more freedom than with last year’s CARES Act funding.

“As long as it’s related to COVID, or mitigating the effects of COVID,” Goswami said.

The spending rules do require City College to allocate at least $2.8 million in financial aid directly to students, which was the amount distributed with the CARES Act in 2020, but Goswami said the goal is to provide more for students with this funding.

“$2.8 million is the minimum that we have to allocate,” Goswami said. “Obviously we want to allocate more.” 

Though no official decisions have been made, board members discussed the prospect of using the less-restrictive guidelines to recover revenue lost in the past year from parking, food service and childcare.

Trustee Jonathan Abboud said the college could take this as an opportunity to expand its SBCC Promise program to include aid for a wider range of students who face obstacles paying for school.

“Using this money to overcome those barriers and to grow our enrollment would help people and help the college,” Abboud said.

Goswami said the money could even be used towards mental-health support and counseling, an area where many students are struggling due to online classes and the self-isolation of the pandemic.

“Mental health is a big issue on campus,” Goswami said.

“I know we want to get back in person when we can but we’re not in great shape right now. Hopefully we’ll get better.” – Trustee Marsha Croninger

A monthly COVID-19 update was provided at the Board of Trustees meeting, showing zero reported cases for the month of December among employees and students who work or attend classes on campus.

Some trustees are pushing for a return to in-person activities sooner rather than later. Trustee Veronica Gallardo said many in the community “want students back on campus,” while trustees Abboud and Marsha Croninger cautioned against moving too fast on account of the rise in cases in Isla Vista.

“I know we want to get back in person when we can but we’re not in great shape right now,” Croninger said. “Hopefully we’ll get better.”

The actual timeline for a return to campus is dependent on the trajectory of the pandemic in the coming weeks and months. With consistent improvement, Goswami said it’s expected that 20% of summer courses will be in-person, and maybe 40% to 50% in the fall.

This goal would be a major jump from the current in-person class rate of about 5%. 

The board will reconvene on Feb. 11 for a study session, and again on Feb. 25 for its regular meeting.