When nine community colleges opened across Los Angeles last week, thousands of students scrambled to get into too few classes.
At Pierce College, 100 students descended on a math course capped at 50. At L.A. Valley College, enrollment grew 105 percent, with classes too full for waiting lists. Students at L.A. Mission College competed for fewer desks.
Now L.A. community college administrators are girding for more cuts in classes and services should voters reject the Proposition 30 tax hike measure this fall.
"I feel it would be a severe punctuation in loss of funds - and have a truly devastating effect on our service mission," Chancellor Daniel LaVista of the Los Angeles Community College District told the Daily News.
"It's estimated we'll cut 1,500 sections - disenfranchising 15,000 to 18,000 students."
A lackluster economy has already forced community colleges across the state to jettison courses, slash enrollment, reduce teachers and raise fees. The California system has seen an $809 million drop in funds in three years, with Los Angeles bearing much of the burden.
The 112-campus state community college system now is bracing for a $338-million midyear budget cut if Gov. Jerry Brown's Prop. 30 tax initiative fails.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles district is preparing for a $31.3-million loss, shared by nine campuses from Sylmar to Wilmington.
To close a $21 million shortfall, the district is looking to cut classes, reduce services, increase parking fees and negotiate faculty and staff pay and benefit cuts and furloughs.
At L.A. Mission College in Sylmar, administrators said a nearly $1.9 million loss may mean closing the library on Fridays and Saturdays, cutting 15 of 40 tutors and reducing hours for student services.
It may also mean closing nearly 100 more classes this spring and turning away prospective students.
"It's devastating," said L.A. Mission College President Monte E. Perez. "The qualitative impact is, students will have to delay getting into four-year universities another year. And it'll take them longer to get that first job."
At L.A. Valley College in Valley Glen, administrators who have already pared 3,000 students, 100 classes and around 60 full-time faculty said there was little left to cut. The campus has already cut library, records and student services.
But if Proposition 30 fails, it could mean a $4 million loss to the college, district administrators say.
Which translates to a possible loss of 100 out of 1,200 classes - and a loss of 4,000 prospective students. And that means a loss to transfer students and vocational training.
"It's catastrophic because we're here to serve the community," said L.A. Valley College President Susan Carleo. "We're not an emergency room. But we are the lifeblood for employers.
"They already say they can't find a trained workforce. And now they can't help and economic turnaround."
At Pierce College in Woodland Hills, administrators have already braced for the worst. In the past four years, it has cut 6,000 students and 20 percent of its courses.
Now they are assuming they will lose $4.5 million because of Prop. 30, while turning away another 1,000 full-time students.
"We're not innovating. Right now, we're eliminating," Anna Davies, vice president of academic affairs, said. "Many students are falling through the cracks.
"They're either going to work as an alternative to school. Or they're just waiting for school because they can't find work. We'll feel the impact of this for years to come."
Don Sparks, a professor of physics and astronomy, has already seen the impact. The student drop rate is lower, the student add rate - or waiting list - is higher than he's seen in his 27 years at Pierce.
In the past, students waited until late August to register for his physics course, he said. But when registration opened in June, the class filled almost immediately.
"That's true of almost all the classes," said Sparks, who chairs the local faculty union chapter. "I see that, in my classes, the level of motivated students has gone up."
Russell Ramirez, a second-year history student, said it's become so difficult to add classes that he knows of professors who have held lotteries for dozens of students vying for classroom slots.
That's why he's been registering students to vote yes on Proposition 30. "They must stop cutting the budget for education," said Ramirez, 23, of Reseda, a member of Resistance Against Gutting Education, a grass-roots group.
Proposition 30, if approved, would increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent for four years and raise taxes on income more than $250,000 for seven years.
Its supporters say it would prevent millions in so-called trigger cuts budgeted for K-12 schools, as well as the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems.
Its opponents, however, say while it's touted to save education, it's merely an added tax. They say the money need not be spent on schools, but instead could be misspent by lawmakers elsewhere.
"Quite frankly, this is not an honest campaign," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which is against the measure. "This whole thing is a total deception.
"If Prop. 30 fails, it shouldn't have any impact on local schools or colleges, because there's no new money in Prop. 30 for any of that."LaVista, the Los Angeles Community College District chancellor, said a failure of the measure could be catastrophic.
He said the district has lost roughly $100 million in the last three fiscal years, or 20 percent of its budget, while losing up to 40,000 students.
In addition to the roughly 8,000 classes cut since 2008, he said another 500 were cut this fall.
"If it fails," LaVista said of Prop. 30, "the broadest stroke I could take would be to curtail services ... The effect is, students prepared for the workforce, or to get a degree - all these things are being challenged in a serious way."