Budget Cuts, Investigation Intensify L.A. Community College Trustees' Races
This comes after a Times series that showed millions of dollars wasted in the district’s building program.
Candidates in the March 8 election are running under promises of reform. In total, there are 16 candidates competing over seven seats, which are elected at-large.
The district which candidates are running for contains nine campuses and has been criticized for its poor graduation rates and low number of students transferring to four-year universities, according to the LA Times.
The focus of many candidates’ campaigns, though, shifted this week to the $5.7 billion bond construction program after a series by the Times found that tens of millions of dollars were wasted. The money went to waste due to inadequate planning, shoddy workmanship and questionable spending in upgrades.
The Times Sunday series also showed that most of the board’s trustees accepted donations from builders who later were give contracts.
Among these board members, Mona Field and Miguel Santiago are both candidates in the election.
Field, a retired college professor who joined the board in 1999, said in an interview that errors occurred due to the large scale of the construction project and she was not influenced by donations. She added that issues raised by the Times were addressed.
"Despite problems, our project has been really outstanding and good for the community; students for the next number of decades are going to benefit," Field said to the LA Times.
Despite Field’s claims that the board acted properly, many candidates in the March 8 election are claiming that the board did not act correctly and are promising reform if elected.
The candidates are:
- Oswaldo Lopez: community center director
- Derrick Mims: LA city workforce board member
- Gwen Walker: retired educator
-Jozef Thomas Essavi: Valley Glen businessman
-Mona Field: incumbent
-Steven Veres: college teacher and San Fernando city councilman wants to make board meetings more accessible to the public and get more state funding
-Joyce Burrell Garcia: educator and member of the slate of reform candidates who wants to speed up student graduation and reduce textbook cost
-Lydia A. Gutierrez: Long Beach Unified School District teacher who wants to fire Larry Eisenberg, the district official in chare of the construction program
-Scott Svonkin: senior advisor to the LA County Sheriff
-Octavio Pescador: educator
-Nicole Michelle Chase: youth advocate
-Manuel Aldana Jr.:board member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council
-Pamela R. Bolin:Northridge West Neighborhood Council treasurer
-Mark Lee:Neighborhood Council member
-Erick Aguirre: North Hills entrepreneur and reform slate candidate
-Miguel Santiago: incumbent who joined the board in 2008
Complicating the community college system is Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed $400 million cut to community colleges. Brown also proposed raising fees 38 percent to $36 per unit. Chancellor Jack Scott estimates that as many as 35,000 students would be turned away, according to Mercury News.
In response, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has recommended reforms such as:
-colleges giving highest enrollment priority to those completing an official education plan (have participated in assessments and counseling)
-students who have taken more that 100 credits pay the full cost of their classes of $190 per credit instead of the state-subsidized rate of $26
-stop subsidizing activity classes such as yoga and drawing taken repeatedly
It is estimated that these changes would save up to $235 million.
Some people are also calling for regulated pay for officials as a way to control the budget. At the moment, there is a wide range of salaries and perks due to a fragmented governing structure that puts 72 different boards in charge, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Chancellor compensation in the 15 largest community college districts range from $228,000 in Ventura County to $390,000 in Sacramento. Car allowances also range greatly from zero to $950 a month. Some chancellors receive housing allowances of $2,000 a month while some receive none at all.
Retirement benefits also vary. In some districts chancellors are given the same pension as other administrators and other chancellors receive tax-sheltered annuities or reimbursements for contributions to a pension plan.
Even though California spending of $5.7 billion on community colleges this year has been made public, the amount spent on executive compensation is not made public or regulated by the state.
The problem is transparency," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles to the Sacramento Bee. "I'm just stunned that there is no statewide database for this. It just seems elementary that the state would be able to tell any taxpayer how much these people are being paid."
There is no statewide database because salary for officials is decided locally.
"It's one of those local control matters where each district negotiates that with their CEOs," said Terri Carbaugh, a spokeswoman for the statewide office of California Community Colleges, said to the Sacramento Bee.
Salaries and benefits are an issue that many want the state to address when deciding on how to balance the budget. State funding in community colleges is already down 7 percent from two years ago and student fees are up 30 percent.
To reach Hannah Madans, click here.