Trustees Dispute Claim of Budget Surplus

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Rebecca Krueger, Staff Writer
December 6, 2012
Filed under News

An audience of hecklers interrupted decorum at the board of trustees meeting on Nov. 19.

Current and former instructors as well as students took turns questioning the board of trustees’ financial decisions for the first half hour of the meeting.

“I think that the people of the district ought to know through all of these years of deficits, according to your report, that the budget is now $1.7 million dollars in surplus,” said Michael H. Miller, former debate coach and political science adjunct teacher at GCC.

The board of trustees were baffled when Miller first spoke of a $1.7 million surplus. The board later stated that there was no surplus. On the contrary, there is still a structural deficit, said Jim Riggs, the interim superintendent/president of GCC at the Town Hall meeting on Nov. 27.

“Right now my wife and my family are suffering immensely because of the kind of cutbacks that have been made,” said Greg Ross, husband of GCC Spanish professor Celia Simon-Ross.

“I am now addressing Isabelle Saber and I’m asking her if she will begin to act as a union president and negotiate strongly so that my wife and my family no longer suffer now that we have a $1.7 million increase.”

Nakasone also said in an interview that GCC still needs to find a way to make $350,000 in cuts.

Speech teacher Jean Perry brought up another issue.

She said, the board agreed to pass a payment totaling $15 million in the month of October, and they hadn’t yet discussed it in front of the public.

Board member Anita Gabrielian responded that she was comfortable with the $15 million spent because she reviewed the information beforehand.

After Perry left the meeting early, the board addressed the issue. It was the second item on the consent calendar. It is a routine expenditure giving an issuance of warrants to payroll, employee benefits, student financial aid and other commercial warrants. Pages 80 to 85 of the board of trustees agenda, for the Nov. 19 meeting, reveal the budget allocation of the $15 million.

“This is a rather unique month due to the size of the warrants issued are extremely large,” said Nakasone.

Financial aid awards accounted for $7.6 million out of the $15.8 million.

“Over half of our students are receiving the B.O.G. fee waiver and in addition they are getting financial aid to help them attend college. Payroll is the other major category where we are issuing warrants for.”

Perry was also under the impression that the $15 million was spent in one month and that spending that much every month would result in $180 million per year in expenditures.

“The issue is that they assume the board of trustees are recklessly spending $15 million every month,” said Riggs during an interview.

Capital construction in the consent calendar results in the money being paid in large increments.

“When someone says, ‘gee you’re spending millions of dollars a month’— it’s not all at once.”

Ross said that he was unable to find information on payroll and salary for GCC employees on State Controller John Chiang’s website. The website contains wage and benefit data for public employees from 69 districts in California. GCC chose not to report on accountability and transparency information.

“Nakasone said that he could not post this information because it was too expensive to do so,” said Ross. “They [the chancellor’s office] indicated that the cost of doing this would be minimal at best.”

The website doesn’t have salary or wage information relating to specific job titles and GCC was not under the list of schools that chose not to submit data.

“There was an optional filing, it was not required, and it was going to take a lot of staff time to file it,” said Riggs in an interview. “The issue was not to spend staff time there but that staff time was better spent elsewhere and that’s all I know about it.”

“We put in our final budget documents for the permanent employees and how much they make so, it’s not like we are trying to hide anything,” said Nakasone. “We didn’t do it because we didn’t have the time to do it, but we are planning on doing it next year.”

Miller breached decorum when he spoke out of turn and began berating the board of trustees. Miller said he believed that the board meetings were supposed to be conducted by parliamentary procedure, and attempted to use the Brown Act for his reasoning.

“The Brown Act is designed to assure that members of the public have the opportunity to see what their elected officials are doing. Members of the public are not participants in the board meeting in the sense of a parliamentary procedure, the parliamentary procedure applies to the members of the board,” said the board of trustees attorney Mary Dowell, later in the meeting.

“We don’t work for you,” said Miller. “You are public employees and public officials who work for the public, and once we get away with the idea that the president is your personal employee then this college will have a real problem getting off onto the right foot. I see us running back into the same old stone walling and the same old system.”

Miller then excused himself. The other speakers left soon after, except for student Sammy Brandon.

Brandon attempted to question the board and interrupted on multiple occasions throughout the meeting. When the board refused to answer his questions during the meeting but told him that they would try to answer him in a private conference with Riggs, or any other board members, he demanded to make an appointment with them at that exact moment.

The board explained that they could not make an appointment with him while the meeting was in session, only to be asked two more times during the meeting for an appointment to be made right then and there.

“We are here and we are accountable to you. That’s why we are here and we are serving you. In order to do this we get together, we have a born agenda, we have business to conduct and we have two places in the public meeting where the public has an opportunity to speak. We want to listen to you, but at this point we are conducting very important college business,” said Gabriellian.

The interruptions stopped when the board began discussing resolutions. At the end of the meeting, after the board finished their regular procedure, some board members and representatives of the Academic Senate and the Guild redirected their attention back toward Brandon and the other public speakers.

“Its really kind of distressing and sad to see what’s become of board meetings,” said John Queen, political science teacher and former academic senate president.

“I was never under the impression that the audience had the right to interrogate the board and I believe that some members of the audience are under that assumption.”

Isabelle Saber, GCC’s guild president, seemed especially offended by the lack of respect from audience members to the board.

“I grew up in a country where freedom was not a given,” said Saber. “For people to take advantage of that and abuse that power and taking that and creating this kind of environment, being so interruptive, so accusatory, without really understanding what’s going on is really shameful.”

In a scheduled presentation, Edward Karpp, associate dean of institutional research and planning, presented GCC’s annual Statewide Accountability Report for 2012. This report includes percentage rates for eight different measures in comparison to other community colleges in the state, district and peer group.

The first measure was the student progress and achievement rate that looks at students that have a “behavioral intent to complete by taking certain courses,” said Karpp. GCC was ranked 15 out of more than 100 schools statewide, sixth out the peer group with 62 percent.

The other measures were: students that are taking 30 or more units per year, successful vocational course completion, basic skills and course completion, English as a second language (ESL) and basic skills improvement rate, career development, and college preparation progress and achievement.

GCC was above the state average for all of the measures, and was always ranked highly in peer groups and in the district.

Eric Bourse, editor-in-chief of El Vaquero, presented a PowerPoint created by Jane Pojawa, editor-in-chief of the Insider, the student magazine, on the history of El Vaquero. The board congratulated the journalism department on a stellar year marked by 34 awards in state and local competition and a cumulative total of 51 awards for the Insider over its 5-year history.

Eva Conrad, search consultant of Community College Search Services, made a special presentation to the board that reviewed the timeline to find a new president for the college.

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