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2010 SBCC Board of Trustees Candidate Q&A with Marsha Croninger

NOOZHAWK: What motivated you to run for the SBCC Board of Trustees? Explain your decision process.

Marsha Croninger
Marsha Croninger

MARSHA CRONINGER: I became concerned about the new direction SBCC has recently taken and decision-making at the college over the last year. Since February I have attended every SBCC Board of Trustees meeting, almost every College Planning Council meeting, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee meetings and later the Continuing Education Consultation Council. I studied the Education Code, regulations and guidance documents, and spoke with students, faculty and staff and with the Chancellor’s Office. What I found was a college administration that confused shared governance with a report on what had already been decided, that lacked and even resisted transparency, and a board that was not engaged and informed about the decisions it was making. The college was turning away from its core mission to provide for-credit education for students seeking degrees, transfer to four-year institutions and job skills and alienating the community that supports it, without discussion with stakeholders and the community on whether this was necessary or appropriate.

For example, the two most important decisions that the college has made in the last two years — the decision whether and how to cut a large number of classes, both credit and noncredit — and the decision to turn instead to building large reserve funds of almost $40 million were both made without shared governance or transparency.

When I was asked by a group of concerned college stakeholders and community members to run for a trustee seat, I concluded it was too important not to step up and work for a new approach, including full transparency, shared governance and community involvement.

» Shared Governance. Shared governance or “participatory governance,” is a legal right of faculty, students and staff to participate effectively in decisions that affect them before the decisions are made. For example, Title V states:

“The governing board shall not take action on a matter having a significant effect on students until it has provided students with an opportunity to participate in the formulation of the policy or procedure or the joint development of recommendations regarding the action ... (D)istrict and college policies and procedures that have or will have a ‘significant effect on students’ includes the following: ... courses or programs which should be initiated or discontinued; (and) processes for institutional planning and budget development.”

It was very clear that while meetings occurred, shared governance was not happening in college governance committees and particularly for major decisions and recommendations that came to the Board of Trustees. Shared governance is valuable because it means that the people most affected, who best understand what the consequences of a decision or policy will be, participate in developing the recommended course of action. This leads to better decisions than top-down management.

For example, as mentioned above, the two most important decisions that SBCC has made in the last two years — the decision whether and how to cut a large number of classes, both credit and noncredit — and the decision to turn instead to building large reserve funds of almost $40 million were both made without shared governance or transparency. The College Planning Council spent many of its precious meetings on ranking equipment requests totaling about $1.3 million, but little to no time discussing the other $100 million-plus of the budget and the policy choices inherent in how that money would be spent, or not spent.  For example, CPC minutes for July 27, 2009, reflect that the decision to cut classes and how to divide those cuts had already been made by the administration and was being implemented. It was not up for discussion. Click here for more information.

This fall, credit classes and student services such as counseling for transfer and tutors were cut even more aggressively than last year in an effort to reach goals for reduced student class hours. Again, no meaningful shared governance, no informed consideration of alternatives occurred — just implementation of a decision to cut classes that had already been made. The results were, in the words of both students and staff, “horrible.” Cutting all those classes couldn’t be done without real damage to students trying to get their classes and move on with their lives. So, on Sept. 23, the board backtracked — a little, not a lot — because the consequences of the June budget it adopted have been so bad and students so greatly affected.

At the same time, rather than restoring all the classes for (my estimate of) perhaps $500,000 to $700,000, all but one board member voted to move $6.9 million from unrestricted general funds (where they can be used for classes) into funds for equipment and construction with only a very superficial discussion of exactly why and what for and what were the alternatives. No board member actually asked how much it would cost to restore classes instead.

In the current budget, even after restoring some classes for spring, the only major expenditure that is going down is teacher’s salaries with a box noting that this is because classes were “reduced” and giving the impression that the state required class cuts. The state did not require class cuts. It required the board to make a local decision on how to allocate its revenues. The board decided to cut classes. SBCC staff have agreed and the Chancellor’s Office has confirmed that the board had the option to make other choices.

Cutting classes was not the only alternative to save money. It generates small savings and false savings. As a result, many students must stay another year to take classes they need to transfer or graduate, increasing the cost of their education for taxpayers and to themselves, and blocking space for new students.

The second major decision, to greatly increase reserves to almost $40 million in a time of economic distress, was also made without shared governance or public discussion. Review the minutes of board meetings over the last two years and you will not find a discussion of should we raise reserves? Why? How much do we need? Why do we need that much? Over what time period should we accumulate it? How do we balance the need for reserves against the needs of students for classes, student services and the other important parts of the budget? At the very least, the board should have requested a reserve study to answer these questions and brought it forward for discussion. It did not. In 2008-2009, the surplus (“profits”) at the end of the school year for that year alone were $5.2 million. In 2009-2010, the surplus for that year alone was $6.2 million. SBCC had the cash to continue to operate while these discussions occurred. It was not an emergency.

Watching board meetings, it was also clear that the board was not used to having the public appear before it and the board was neither welcoming nor respectful in its response when students, faculty and community members appeared and expressed their concerns about the lack of shared governance. On Feb. 23, a board member and current candidate responded to a polite advance request to expand the board’s 20-minute limit on public comment to permit a larger number of speakers. The response: the board would allow 21 minutes. At the Feb. 25 board meeting, speakers were individually selected by some board members from a pile of requests — accepting some, rejecting others. One board member said, “I don’t want to hear from faculty.” Minutes from a May board meeting listed only the names of the members of the public who spoke, but reported in great detail the response of the president to the public’s comments.

I attended a Quaker school, Germantown Friends School, a K-12 school in Philadelphia. It had terrific academics, but the most important lessons I learned were the values the school believed and lived. Those values included a sincere respect for the importance of the contribution of each individual, the importance of listening and the importance of community. And so I was concerned about what I observed at the SBCC board meetings and about what values were being expressed. At GFS, the school motto was “Behold I have set before you an open door.” Too many doors at SBCC seemed to be closed or closing.

» Transparency. Some members of the public could not attend the board meetings. They asked what happened. In some cases the minutes did not entirely correspond with personal recollections of what was said. I decided to ask for the high-quality audio tapes that the college records of each public meeting of the board so that everyone could listen. Because I was an attorney and represented the state of California in regulatory enforcement for 11 years, I am familiar with the California Public Records Act. On behalf of the state, I have responded to public requests for government records.

A tape is a neutral record of what occurred. It is a public record of a public meeting and required by law to be provided. To my great surprise, SBCC refused. I continued to politely ask for the tapes of each board meeting and asked that they be preserved. The college responded by hiring a Los Angeles attorney at taxpayer expense to write a long letter refusing to provide the tapes. Knowing this was legally indefensible, I continued to politely request the tapes of each board meeting after it occurred. In June, I spoke during public comment and asked the board to release the tapes to the public as a matter of good public policy. The college continued to decline to release the tapes. Finally, after this election for board seats became contested, the college changed course and started to post the tapes of board meetings for 30 days, then destroy them. It continues to refuse to release the tapes of board subcommittee meetings.

When the college started to post the tapes in September, I asked again for the tapes I had requested earlier. I received some of them, and another letter from the L.A. lawyer stating that the tapes of five board meetings (including the Feb. 25 meeting described above) had been destroyed and three others of the Continuing Education Consultation Council would not be provided. As a matter of policy, this approach is inexplicable, and the L.A. lawyer is a sad waste of taxpayer funds, funds that should have been spent meeting student needs.

This was one of many instances in which the college refused to be transparent about the facts, to let the public judge for itself.

» Open Government. Another problem was the board’s lack of concern for both the letter and the purpose of open government laws. The Brown Act requires the board to discuss and decide in public. It prohibits private communications to decide or reach a consensus outside of the public eye. Thus, it was surprising when the board president and the SBCC president issued a news release on May 19 that most summer continuing education classes were canceled, more than one week before the board meeting on May 27 when that decision was supposed to be made.

Like voting, public access to government records, to information about what and why the government is deciding, is fundamental to maintaining a democracy. SBCC is a government entity. It is supported by taxpayer funds and is subject to these laws. The Legislature has said in the opening section of the Brown Act:

“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Shared governance, openness, respect and transparency are essential in our schools, not only because they are effective in reaching good decisions, but also because they are values students should learn that will help them be successful and contribute to the communities where they live. The actions, not just words, of the Board of Trustees should reflect these values.

NOOZHAWK: What unique experience or expertise do you have that will make a difference on the SBCC board?

MC: I am an environmental attorney with more than 30 years in the practice of law. For 11 years I represented the state departments of Health Services and Public Health in regulatory enforcement programs. I also drafted and negotiated legislation in the Legislature. I am comfortable with complex regulatory programs and familiar with how Sacramento works. As a lawyer I am used to asking questions and getting complete answers. I can advocate effectively for SBCC in Sacramento. I am committed to shared governance, openness, respect and transparency, and to the importance of healing and enhancing the relationship between college and community.

After I left the state of California, I practiced law in two large law firms, Jones Day and then McDermott Will & Emery. I was a partner in both firms and was the head of the environmental practice at McDermott Will & Emery when I retired. My practice included representing large international corporations in complex transactions and litigation. The money at stake often exceeded the college’s annual budget of about $100 million.

For example, in one transaction I was responsible for advising the client regarding the environmental liabilities associated with the purchase of a chemical company with 41 facilities located in the United States and 11 foreign countries. The nature, magnitude and time period for addressing those potential liabilities turned out to be the most important consideration for the client as it decided whether to proceed with the purchase.

Transactions of this type move quickly and require a careful and informed understanding of the big picture as well as a deep knowledge of the underlying supporting information. Similarly, when the SBCC Board of Trustees makes policy decisions, it needs to see — and discuss openly in public — the big picture and the short-term and long-term consequences, intended or not, of those policy decisions. Board members need to ask good questions and be informed about the underlying facts and considerations that support or do not support their decisions before they decide.

NOOZHAWK: What is the most pressing challenge SBCC faces? How would you help resolve it?

MC: SBCC faces many different challenges at the same time and all must be addressed. To do that, it needs a board that is fully engaged and willing to meet as often as necessary to get the job done.

The current board practice of meeting 44 hours a year, plus an occasional subcommittee meeting, is not nearly enough time to study, and discuss and decide in public (as required) the many important policy issues facing SBCC. It is not enough time to have an informed understanding of the $100 million college budget adopted by the board each year. What results instead is a passive routine affirmation by the current board of what the president has recommended, without serious discussion or consideration of the consequences or alternatives.

Community colleges are an essential part of California’s economic engine. We need to turn out more students who are ready for the workplace, more students with degrees, more transfers to UC and CSU campuses. If we do not succeed, our economy will weaken, not grow.

At SBCC, according to SBCC’s own published statistics, the number of students is rising but the number of degrees awarded and transfers are falling — between 9 percent and 11 percent since 2007-2008. Similarly, according to the Chancellor’s Office statistics, SBCC is below the statewide average last year in the number of student class hours it provides for the state apportionment money it receives. We need to turn that around and start doing better. SBCC should be among the best in California in education.

I would start with transparency and shared governance and then use those fundamental process changes to challenge faculty, students, staff and the community to surface and address the many issues the board needs to be studying and deciding. For example, is the current SBCC budget accurately reflecting the school’s mission and priorities? How can we move students through our community college faster, with the skills they need to transfer and get jobs? Can SBCC do better in partnering with local high schools to reach out to disadvantaged, minority or at-risk students? What are the jobs of the future, especially the ones that pay well, such as many of the green jobs? SBCC cannot limit itself to preparing for local jobs. How can SBCC best partner with more and more diverse local and national companies, as showcased in the recent first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges? Since college statistics state that only 1,216 AA degrees were awarded in 2009-2010 and only 986 students transferred in 2008-2009 from about 20,000 credit students, is SBCC meeting the needs of the many other students enrolled? What more can/should SBCC do to mitigate impacts from student housing and transportation on the city of Santa Barbara and local neighborhoods? And many more.

In addition, I would ask the board to agree that current processes for discussing policy decisions should be changed so that the administration provides an “Issue Memo.” This is a technique that was used by the governor’s office during two administrations, Democratic and Republican, while I worked for the state of California to make decisions on major policy issues. I have written several. An issue memo describes the issue to be decided, the recommended course of action, the alternatives, and the pros and cons of all options. It can be easily adapted to include the recommendations of shared governance discussions. A good issue memo provides the board with the information it needs to be informed and to ask good questions. Currently, very few substantive questions are being asked by board members in board meetings and study sessions.

The current board meets by tradition twice a month for about two hours each time. One session is a formal regular meeting at which decisions are made. The other session is a study session also run in a formal fashion without dialogue with the public. Despite the many issues that have arisen over the last two years, the board has continued on this schedule and called no special study sessions. There are three subcommittees and some subcommittee meetings, mostly of the facilities subcommittee. The fiscal subcommittee meets rarely and the educational policies subcommittee met in March 2009 and then not again until September 2010.

Forty-four hours a years plus an occasional subcommittee meeting is not nearly enough time to study, and discuss and decide in public (as required) the many important policy issues facing SBCC. It is not enough time to have an informed understanding of the $100 million college budget adopted by the board each year. What results instead is a passive routine affirmation by the current board of what the president has recommended, without serious discussion or consideration of the consequences or alternatives.

As mentioned above, transparency is also a problem. Shared governance does not work if the relevant facts are not provided or accurate because the participants cannot discuss the issues without those facts. Members of the public have the right to a copy of the vast majority of government records. This is so that they can be informed about the facts concerning decisions that are made, and how their taxpayer dollars are spent.

This spring I asked for a list of credit classes that had been canceled or were planned to be canceled. The college refused to provide such a list, stating that classes (that used to be offered) were not canceled, they were “not offered.”

In July, I asked for information explaining the claim that SBCC’s budget had been cut $9.2 million to $12 million over the last two years. No information on this has been provided to date.

Recently in a College Planning Council meeting, it was mentioned that SBCC has a spreadsheet of all the cuts the college has made over the last two years. SBCC President Andreea Serban said that no prioritizing of those cuts had taken place at CPC, unlike “Program Review” requests for new equipment. Dr. Serban commented that everybody knew what the cuts were. I didn’t. And I thought that probably each department of the college knew what its cuts were but that it was likely they didn’t know what every other department’s cuts were in any organized fashion. I asked for a copy of the spreadsheet of cuts. The college refused to provide it.

These are serious transparency problems. Basic facts need to be made available to everyone so there can be an intelligent discussion among stakeholders and with the community about the policy choices the college should be making before a recommended decision reaches the board.

NOOZHAWK: Public education seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis at every level in California. What can SBCC do to take more control of its destiny locally?

MC: SBCC does have control of most decisions locally. The Education Code requires that the Chancellor’s Office “shall at all times be directed to maintaining and continuing, to the maximum degree permissible, local authority and control in the administration of the California Community Colleges. When SBCC decides that local priorities — such as courses or financial support — are not being recognized at the Chancellor’s Office or in the Legislature, SBCC and its board should be specific in advocating for what SBCC needs, not use Sacramento as an excuse.

While SBCC may not receive as much financial support as we hope for, it has a variety of revenue sources, not just from Sacramento, and it has control over its own budget and the priorities that budget reflects. Historically, SBCC has also had the generous support of the community, and both college and community benefit when that relationship is strong.

When SBCC needed a bond measure for construction and deferred maintenance projects, school officials went to the Adult Ed classes to urge voters to pass Measure V, and Adult Ed voters were the backbone of the support for Measure V — a “gift” to SBCC of $77 million in bonds.

SBCC still needs that community support.

In the fall of 2009 when almost 100 Adult Ed classes were abruptly canceled and the registration systems failed, almost 8,000 Adult Ed students dropped from the programs compared to fall of 2008. This was 36 percent of the total Adult Ed student population. (SBCC’s published statistics show Fall 2008: 22,371 unduplicated Continuing Ed students versus Fall 2009: 14,417 unduplicated Continuing Ed students.) And they haven’t returned this fall.

This is greater than the margin of passage for Measure V — so if these students decided to vote against the next Measure V, it would not pass. The college will need another bond measure like Measure V in the future and it will need the support of the community to pass. It was a mistake not to take the time to use the shared governance process to find shared solutions for both the credit side and Adult Ed.

SBCC needs to take the time to make good decisions with transparency and shared governance for the reasons described above. Everyone may not agree on the solutions, but there is far greater support and understanding when the community feels it has been respected and heard. From July 2009 through December 2009, SBCC had at least $28 million to $43 million in cash. There was no emergency. There was time to involve stakeholders and the community in developing careful and reasoned recommendations about how to adjust to a $2.6 million reduction in apportionment revenue. Instead, the administration decided to cut classes for 100 percent of that reduction. In a very short time period, SBCC lost 8,000 students in Adult Ed, cut the Parent Child Workshops by 42 percent, threatening their future ability to survive, and squandered the good will of many members of the community.

NOOZHAWK: SBCC President Andreea Serban has said that the school is “one of the most fiscally sound community colleges in the state.” Do you agree? If not, what steps should be taken to make it so?

MC: Fiscal stability is an important goal for the college and care must be taken to maintain it. The primary mission of the college, however, is education. That is what it is paid to do and that is what our community and California need most. Our economy grows when our students succeed. Chancellor’s Office statistics show that SBCC is below average in the number of students it educates for the apportionment money it receives. SBCC statistics show that transfers and AA degrees have been dropping 9 percent to 11 percent since 2007-2008 despite increased demand. We need to change that and become the best community college in our primary and fundamental mission: education.

We also need a Board of Trustees that understands the budget it adopts and the policy implications of how the money is spent. The budget documents provided to the board are remarkable for their superficial summary nature. Until very recently the board did not even get monthly cash-flow reports. This is like making decisions about what to spend without looking at your monthly checkbook balance.

SBCC needs a reserve study. SBCC needs to make a rational informed decision after discussion with stakeholders and the community on what reserves are needed and why. One trustee said in a recent forum that “you cannot have too much in reserve.” Money is not unlimited. Fear is not a plan. SBCC is making choices when it increases reserves instead of educating students. The college needs to live within its budget, but it cannot aspire to build up its savings accounts in order to retire and live forever without state income. Its mission is education, and the need for that education is greatest for the people of this community and this state in difficult financial times like this.

In May, because of the discussion about the need for reserves, I requested monthly cash-flow reports. On June 24, I spoke during public comment at the board meeting and again requested monthly cash-flow reports. Click here for the minutes of the meeting. The minutes stated, “It was noted that the board does not receive monthly cash-flow reports.” Actually, the board seemed confused at the time whether it had seen any cash-flow reports and what cash-flow reports were. I followed up with an e-mail confirming the request. Board president Joe Dobbs replied to go see Joe Sullivan, head of SBCC Business Services, and to “please stop asking the trustees to do administrative tasks.” I met with Sullivan and asked for the monthly cash-flow reports and was told that I could not have them because the board had not seen them. Catch-22. Finally, after the election for the board seats became contested, the board fiscal subcommittee held a hasty meeting that included the monthly cash-flow reports I had been requesting and released them to the public.

Among other things, the reports showed that during the entire 2009-1010 fiscal year when cuts in credit and noncredit classes were being swiftly imposed without shared governance discussion, the college had between $28 million and $43 million in cash. And this amount does not include another $7 million in a separate account that the board also described as reserves to the accreditation committee in June 2009. (This account is not shown on the board budget documents.) Fiscal stability is good. But all the facts needed to be on the table and fully understood by the board — and stakeholders and the community — before the board made decisions about cutting credit classes, not afterward.

Another confusion by board members is the oft-repeated statements that the school was cut by $9.2 million, $10 million (at a recent forum) or even $12 million over the last two years. Click here, for example, to see item 5.1 page 10, paragraph 2 of the Feb. 25 board minutes or click here.

In fact, looking at the bottom line of the summary budget the board receives, revenues since 2007-2008 went up, not down. In 2007-2008 (baseline for this discussion), total revenues were $100.8 million. In 2008-2009, they were $104.5 million. In 2009-2010, total revenues were $102.2 million.

Separating restricted and unrestricted funds does not appear to explain the claim. For example, in 2008-2009, when unrestricted state apportionment went down, local unrestricted revenue went up, mitigating the drop in state apportionment. These are merely summary documents. The same documents the board sees. But the board did not publicly ask for an explanation of this rise in income in light of the claimed cuts. The incumbent board candidates continue to assert these cuts without serious explanation.

As a matter of transparency, both Lisa Macker and I have asked, in two recent forums, that the board incumbent candidates explain where these statements — that there have been $9.2 million, $10 million and $12 million in cuts — come from and how they are justified. (Macker is another nonincumbent candidate who is a CPA (inactive) with 25 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations.)

The claimed cuts do not come from California’s reduced support for categorical programs (programs for students who are economically disadvantaged or have disabilities or for matriculation). The amounts for SBCC backfill of categorical program cuts by the state are much too small to explain the amounts of cuts claimed.

There is a second serious misunderstanding about the budget and reserves that members of the board have been repeating. This is the claim made by trustee Des O’Neill and Dr. Serban in a June 20 commentary in the Santa Barbara News-Press and again by two of the incumbents in two recent forums. The claim is that the college needs reserves because it is teaching more students than it is paid for by the state (due to the apportionment cap). In their op-ed, O’Neill and Serban stated, “We project ending fiscal year 2009-2010 with more than 1,000 full-time equivalent credit and Continuing Education students above what the state is funding us. This is $4.6 million in unfunded enrollments.” Similary, at a recent forum, trustee Sally Green said that “we are over cap and into our reserves $5.2 million to offer classes.”

As I explained in my June 27 response to the June 20 op-ed, “The further confusion is an implication that having more students in classes than the state paid for was another expense of $4.6 million. Not so. Those ‘extra’ students learned at minimal cost to the district. Their education was largely a donation by the faculty who let more students into their classes for little or no additional pay. Unless the trustees are planning to pay the faculty $4.6 million for their generosity in taking on extra students, that figure is not the real cost.”

Since that article, the claimed “unfunded growth” for teaching “extra” students has risen to $5.2 million. Click here to see an example on page 11 of this document.

The fallacy remains the same. Teaching more students does not cost SBCC nearly that much money. The burden falls on teachers (and students) but not so much on the college’s bottom line. Once a class is allowed to go forward, its costs are essentially set — teacher, classroom, lights, heating, furniture. If there are empty seats, taking more students is essentially no additional monetary cost. (It does have a cost in the quality of education — teacher-student interaction and teacher burnout — which are more difficult to measure.)

It is like an airplane that leaves Los Angeles for Phoenix with 20 empty seats. The cost to fly is essentially the same whether the airline fills those seats or not. SBCC needs to fill those empty seats.

If new sections are opened with new teachers, there are additional costs. I have asked the administration for the actual costs of the additional “over cap” students since July, but have not received that information.

All the community colleges are teaching more students than they are paid for. But SBCC falls below the statewide average. This Is not because teachers won’t take more students, but because the administration, with the concurrence of the board, does not let them take more students. The board knows this, but it did not direct the administration to allow teachers to take more students even in existing classes with empty seats. You can listen to the last 45 minutes of the Sept. 23 board meeting before it is removed and destroyed after 30 days. Click here for the minutes.

NOOZHAWK: What should be SBCC’s core mission? Are credit and continuing education programs equal? Should they be?

MC: Credit and continuing education programs are not equal at SBCC. In financial terms, the credit side at SBCC is about 90 percent to 92 percent of the budget and noncredit is 8 percent to 10 percent of the budget. This is probably a reasonable balance reflecting the educational priorities of the college and community. The Education Code has several statutes that cover the mission of the community colleges, and basic skills, transfer, AA degrees, job training and lifelong learning are all among them.

Historically, Adult Ed has contributed a great deal to the college in donations and support for bond measures. Apart from state reimbursement of classes, it also brings in $2.2 million in revenue each year from the state, provided that a certain level of classes is given from the Wake and Schott Centers. (The corresponding state revenue for the main campus is $4.4 million.) This has helped to maintain the fiscal stability of the college and the college has offered the community rich noncredit and lifelong learning programs. In the last two years there have been many changes in Adult Ed, particularly in the reduction of state-reimbursed offerings for active seniors. What has been lacking is a big-picture plan and discussion of where the Adult Ed program is headed and where it should be headed.

The upset among students and faculty at Adult Ed this last year has always been about the lack of shared governance, not the specific classes cut or converted to fee. But the board and the administration have repeatedly failed to hear that message. They focus not on the forest but the trees, and keep responding that it was only about 20 classes cut in February, mostly cooking classes. Now, a year later, the board is still asking whether students in Adult Ed want the right to participate in shared governance.

What has been lacking is a serious discussion of why SBCC has cut and continues to cut classes, including credit classes and small-cost student services like tutors, transfer counseling and readers for essays in large classes. All of these are relatively small savings, and generally false savings, because they transfer the higher cost of a student’s longer stay for his or her education to the taxpayers and reduce the quality of the curriculum.

In June 2009, the board certified its report to the accreditation committee, which stated that the college had sufficient reserves to cover late state budgets and deferred state payments. Yet, without discussion or a reserve study, the board then embarked on major class and other cuts starting in the fall of 2009 and chose to build up reserves by $11.4 million in two of the worst years of California’s budget crisis. That money came largely from the college’s educational programs, and, as a result, SBCC has fallen to below average in the number of student hours it educates for the apportionment money it receives. Meanwhile, the reserves have always greatly exceeded the amounts needed to meet payroll and operating expenses while the Legislature dithered, especially considering that almost half of the routine continuing streams of income that come to the college are from sources other than the state budget.

Noncredit in Santa Barbara is not just classes for older adults. It includes job training, high school GED (General Educational Development) programs, ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, bilingual computer classes, citizenship, health and parenting classes.

There has been much confusion about whether Santa Barbara’s Adult Ed programs are outsized relative to other noncredit programs in California. At the Feb. 25 board meeting that many Adult Ed students attended, Dr. Serban stated, “SBCC has 25 percent of all Continuing Ed classes in the entire state of California — that is very significant.” This number is not significant and suggests the wrong conclusion about the program. No one on the board corrected this statement. Perhaps they did not know that Santa Barbara actually has 2.4 percent of the Continuing Education classes — measured by student hours — in the state. What Santa Barbara also has, is a list of historic classes approved by the state but not offered in Continuing Ed for up to15 years or more. The measurement that counts is what the program actually offers, not the cumulative list of all past classes no longer offered.

According to the Chancellor’s Office statistics for 2008-2009, Santa Barbara’s Adult Ed Program was eighth in the state measured by student hours in class, and a number of programs such as North Orange and Rancho Santiago are three to four times larger. In 2008-2009, Santa Barbara’s Adult Ed program was 12 percent of total student hours. In Sonoma, noncredit was 18 percent of the total student hours, in Monterey Peninsula 22 percent, in Rancho Santiago 29 percent.

Regarding reserves, the cash-flow reports, finally provided for the first time at the Aug. 9 fiscal subcommittee meeting start at page12. Click here for the document.

The state prefers that each college keep a minimum of 5 percent of its budget as a contingency reserve fund (for rainy days). This contingency amount is shown on the cash-flow report and varies from about $4 million in 2008-2009 to $4.3 million projected for 2010-2011. Note that this increase means that the budget itself has increased, not decreased, over this time period. The line of greatest interest is the “TOTAL” for “Ending Cash by Fund,” which aggregates some, not all, of the college’s discretionary cash accounts. Excluded from that total is an additional $7 million to $8 million that is kept in a separate JPA account but is discretionary money available to the board as reserves, according to the board’s own report to the accreditation committee. So add at least $7 million to the total “Ending Cash by Fund” shown on the cash-flow report. In September 2008, the cash reserves on the report appear to be $9,937,743, but that does not include the additional $7 million to $8 million in the JPA fund, bringing the total to more than $17 million. In addition, in the Aug. 9 subcommittee meeting, the board was told that the college had additional funds in a different account that receives incoming (federal) student financial aid that was not moved over to the General Fund in August and September 2008, apparently because it was not needed, even though the college disbursed $4.4 million in student financial aid during those two months. The college has refused to release the tapes of that meeting for the public to listen and decide for itself.

In a recent forum, one incumbent trustee said SBCC operating expenses were increased because the college was advancing state financial aid to students during the state budget impasse, but the Chancellor’s Office has provided figures for that program for SBCC. It is only about $150,000 for the entire year. Similarly, at the forum at SBCC in connection with the then-state budget impasse, O’Neill stated that SBCC was “burning” through $7 million a month. If he meant this was negative cash flow, that would be $21 million over three months since July. He did not mention that almost half of SBCC revenues do not come through the Legislature. (It is much more than half if federal student financial aid is included in cash flow as it is in the SBCC cash-flow reports.) Nor did he mention that the General Fund cash-flow projections made in August for all three months — July, August and September 2010 — combined totaled $8.9 million in negative cash flow, not $21 million if there was no state budget. This is why we need a reserve study.

NOOZHAWK: With state funding limitations increasingly affecting the UC and CSU systems, will SBCC graduates continue to have the transfer access they need to complete undergraduate degrees? If not, what’s the solution?

MC: A recent bill, SB 1440 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, was passed and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this month that will simplify the transfer process to CSUs from community collegs. This step alone is expected to save about $160 million and provide access for 40,000 more community college students to CSUs. Currently some courses do not transfer to CSUs and students waste time and taxpayer money trying to surmount complex variable transfer requirements at different universities. The bill will create an AA degree designed for transfer that will, for the first time, give students a clear guaranteed pathway to transfer to CSUs. Hopefully, a similar approach can be worked out for UC transfers in the future.

However, it must also be kept in mind that the UCs and CSUs need the resources to take and educate the students who transfer there.

NOOZHAWK: To help upgrade and improve aging campus infrastructure, local voters passed Measure V. The bond was to be matched by the state of California, but instead the state has reneged. What will be the long-term impacts of “half” a renovation? What options are available to SBCC to complete its modernization plans?

MC: Over the years with budget cutbacks, the state has reduced support for maintenance of existing facilities. SBCC could not afford to cover all maintenance out of annual revenues so some projects were placed on a longer term list of deferred maintenance. Measure V was intended to take care of those projects as well as major renovation and construction. Measure V has the resources to do so, especially since the planned School of Media Arts (SoMA) was not built and was deferred indefinitely.

The state did not “renege” on its match but it did lower the amount of the match for SoMA. By deferring SoMA, SBCC gave up the reduced but still very significant state matching funds that would have been contributed for SoMA. Despite the budget crunch, SBCC’s Drama/Music building renovation received state matching funds, and many other community colleges are receiving large amounts of state matching funds for projects they are constructing.

At some point SBCC will need another bond measure to renovate, build and maintain for the future. It will need to plan early and draw on the expertise of the entire college and the community to assess and determine the projects that make sense. SBCC will also need the support of the community to secure passage of that measure. This is one of the many reasons the relationship between college and community will always be important for the college. It cannot thrive as an island in the larger community.

NOOZHAWK: Besides the breathtaking views, what is SBCC’s greatest asset?

MC: The SBCC students, faculty and staff and, until recently, the special supportive relationship between the college and the community — a unique asset we need to recover.

NOOZHAWK: What is your personal connection to SBCC?

MC: The people — students, faculty, staff and the many members of the community who care deeply about SBCC.

NOOZHAWK: Are you a Main Campus person? West Campus? Schott Center? Wake Center?

MC: All of the above and the other community locations where SBCC offers classes.

NOOZHAWK: Do you watch the TV show, Community? Who’s your favorite character?

MC: No, TV has not found its way into my life lately.

NOOZHAWK: If elected, will you help us establish a Noozhawk lab as part of the required coursework for journalism, photography, advertising and marketing, and New Media?

MC: Did Noozhawk first learn to spell “news” as part of its collaboration with Timothy Leary’s lab at Harvard?

Click here for more information on Marsha Croninger’s campaign.

Related Articles

» Click here for Kay Alexander’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Marty Blum’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Joe Dobbs’ Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Sally Green’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Peter Haslund’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Lisa Macker’s Noozhawk Q&A.

» Click here for Desmond O’Neill’s Noozhawk Q&A.

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