Robbing the Faculty (and the Taxpayers)

BY HANK REICHMAN

In 2012 voters in Alameda County (including this blogger), across the bay from San Francisco, approved Measure B, a parcel tax, to provide the Peralta Community College District, which has  campuses in Berkeley, Alameda and Oakland, an extra $8 million each year.  The funds were designated to “support affordable college education including: providing core academic programs including math, science, and English” with “no funds for administrators’ salaries.”

But according to a report in today’s San Francisco Chronicle, since 2015 district administrators have used millions of dollars of the parcel tax money for nonacademic staff salaries and fringe benefits normally paid out of the general fund and almost nothing on faculty or students.  According to the Chronicle report,

The impact has been striking. Payouts for staff fringe benefits from Measure B funds spiked by 320 percent (from $646,132 to $2,728,612) and staff salaries rose 30 percent ($3,092,329 to $4,020,068), all while part-time faculty salaries fell by 65 percent in one year (from $4,157,952 to $1,429,962).

Full-time faculty members are paid from the district’s permanent general fund.  The extra funding was intended to pay for part-time instructors, who have long been the majority of the faculty despite state laws mandating that 75% of instruction be staffed by full-time tenure-track faculty.  And, in fact, part-time instructors were the main recipients of Measure B funds at first.  But records show that by 2016, most of the parcel tax was no longer being spent on those salaries.

“There shouldn’t be any money shifted” to other types of expenditures, said Michael Mills, chair of the Peralta Citizens’ Oversight Committee, an appointed group of voters that oversees Measure B expenditures.  He requested an independent audit in January.  Peralta Chancellor Jowel Laguerre has agreed to the audit.

District records show that staff paid with parcel tax funds include custodians, warehouse personnel, secretaries, librarians and counselors.  The money has also paid for their benefits: retirement, sick leave, vacation and medical care.  Staff members typically earn $58,000 to $64,000 with full benefits, which is more than adjunct faculty, who often make less than $50,000 and do not receive full benefits, the Chronicle said.

Suspicions are that the district may be using the Measure B funds to pay for staff normally covered by the general fund in order to free up money to pay for new consultants and top administrators.  According to the Chronicle report,

This semester, Peralta’s four community colleges — Laney, Alameda, Berkeley and Merritt — have a total enrollment of about 30,000, for which the district currently employs nine vice chancellors who earn more than $100,000 annually.  By contrast, City College of San Francisco has about 65,000 students and employs five vice chancellors.

Since 2015, Laguerre — with the approval of the Peralta Board of Trustees — has made 10 upper-management appointments whose jobs carry six-figure salaries, many using interim titles that bypass hiring committees.  He has also brought in four consultants who worked with him in the past.

Approved by 73 percent of the vote, Measure B was originally designed to help the district deal with cutbacks in state funding.  Immediately after it passed, former Chancellor Jose Ortiz set aside $3 million of it for a new academic program called Peralta Accountability for Student Success, focused on improving success rates for students seeking employment or a move to a four-year university. But since Laguerre became chancellor in 2015, no additional Measure B money has been put into that program or into any new district-wide academic programs.

The Chronicle also reports that in 2012, when Laguerre was president/superintendent of the Solano Community College District, a grand jury admonished him for his handling of a $348 million voter-approved bond measure.  It said the language of the ballot measure was misleading to voters and violated state law.  No charges were brought, however.

I can’t, of course, independently vouch for the validity of the Chronicle’s report; for that we must await the results of the audit.  But judging from appearances, this is yet another flagrant example of a self-perpetuating administrative elite run wild.  California community college faculty, both full-time and part-time, have had their hands full in recent years dealing with their overzealous accrediting agency, ACCJC.  That body has repeatedly sanctioned institutions for poor fiscal management.  Yet here, in the very district where ACCJC’s notorious former director, Barbara Beno, served as a college president, we see clear evidence of de facto administrative embezzlement (for, really, if the report is accurate, that’s what this amounts to) at the expense of part-time faculty, students and taxpayers.  And where has ACCJC been?  That Laguerre could move from a district where he was admonished for mishandling a bond measure to a similar position in a larger district and once again do much the same thing speaks volumes about the managerial rot plaguing higher education administration everywhere today.


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