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Sierra College budget cut hearing could decide fate of men's water polo, other sports, programs

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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While Sierra College’s highly touted football program will continue on, several smaller programs are on the verge of being slashed because of financial concerns. On the athletic front, the Sierra College board could vote today to discontinue men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s track and cross-country and men’s water polo. That leaves Sierra with a roster of 11 athletic programs that includes the Wolverine football squad, as well as baseball and swimming. Chris Breitbart, head coach of both the men’s swim team and men’s water-polo team, said that he’d be making a pitch for continued funding of the three-year-old water polo squad. The program has 22 men participating. And if that doesn’t work, he’ll try to keep the team’s head above water by raising an estimated $20,000 – the amount he estimates will be needed in the coming year. The college is trying to cut costs to deal with an estimated $11.2 million funding shortfall this coming fiscal year starting in July. “Like everybody else, our school’s in serious financial trouble,” Breitbart said. “But this is a great program. When things get better, we’re hoping that the college can get back in.” The college board will take up a cost-slashing plan at 4 p.m. today in the school’s Dietrich Theater that also puts automotive, construction and agricultural courses on the chopping block and cuts funding to its long-time small business assistance effort. Karen Killebrew, PlacerGROWN board president, said that the organization’s weekend farm conference in Lincoln found the agricultural community very concerned about the Rocklin college’s continuing reduction of horticulture and agriculture courses. The Tahoe Cattlemen’s Association and Placer Nevada Cattlewomen’s Association both give scholarships to students wanting to study agriculture and they are very concerned because students cannot find affordable programs in the region, she said. Marilyn Williamson, a Placer County farmer, said cutting the ag department at Sierra College is a shortsighted view. “There are numerous reports out there that there is a coming food shortage,” Williamson said. “Education, government and the general public have to wake up and invest in the future if we want to continue to eat healthy, reasonably price food.” Also up for a vote on whether to continue funding is the Sierra College Small Business Development Center. The center was located for many years on Wall Street in Auburn but is now based in Roseville. Under a proposal to be presented to the board today, Program Manager Indria Gillespie, an assistant director, an administrative secretary and eight counselors will be among 35 positions that will be eliminated at the school. Brent Smith, CEO of the Auburn based Sierra Economic Development Corp., said Monday that his private, non-profit corporation provides space for the college program and it will be missed if it goes under. The Sierra program provides counseling for prospective small business owners and then guides them through their first years with counseling and assistance. Many of the counselors are former, successful business owners. “We don’t want to be without that counseling capability,” Smith said. “It’s of vital interest to us. Four out of five small businesses fail in their first five years. People who are in the small business program tend to be in the 20 percent that succeed.”