Nobody dragged out the guillotine, but the SBCC Board of Trustees did vote to revoke a two-year contract renewal for three Continuing Education (CE) administrators whose salaries total more than $400,000 and instead grant a one-year contract.
During public comment, supporters of the vice president of Continuing Education, Dr. Ofelia Arellano, questioned why the board chose to review only the contracts of the CE administrators. And a few of the adult education instructors worried that their workload would increase without administrators, who include Kendall Harris, director of CE, and Bonita Schaffner, the dean.
Several adult education students also spoke in favor of keeping the administration in place. They feared, somewhat erroneously, that the fate of their classes was tied to that of the CE administrators. Martin Caballero, a Vietnam veteran, explained how SBCC helped him fulfill his dream of becoming a drug and alcohol counselor. Rafael Santayana read from a document that he said that just a few weeks ago he would not have been able to create if it weren’t for the basic computer skills class where he learned to use Microsoft Word. And Tim Mohammed explained that, since he was laid off, the Community Technology Centers have been crucial in preparing him to rejoin the workforce.
In fact, while the state is not funding personal enrichment classes, it does — to the extent that it supports any education — support noncredit classes related to career skills. Jack Friedlander, acting superintendent/president of SBCC, said at the meeting that there was a “misconception” that certain classes were being cut. But the public commenters did crystallize the vital role that SBCC plays in the local economy.
Another constituency, which is very protective of the noncredit enrichment courses and was responsible for voting in four new trustees last year, advocated for the termination of the three CE adminstrators’ contracts. One such activist, Charmaine Jacobs, a former city planning commissioner, said that the administration would need to be streamlined in order for the college to deal with budget cuts. “Everyone enjoys a good cheerleading session,” she said, “but I thought I would offer some balance.”
Behind the turmoil at SBCC are crushing cuts by the state. Two midyear cuts in January and February—the first due to “triggers” when state revenues did not meet targets built into the budget, and the second due to an unexpected drop in enrollment fees—put the total reduction in SBCC’s budget at $7,635,000 for the 2011-2012 year. When discussing future cuts, trustees and staff last night tossed around million-dollar figures like they were baseballs. If the governor’s ballot propositions for sales and income tax increases fail in November, SBCC is looking at an additional $7 million in cuts next year.
To shield the enrichment CE classes that are so dear to the community, Friedlander has proposed an independent unit called the Center for Lifelong Learning that would rely on private funding and sustain itself without the expectation of any state aid. He has held public forums and created a task force to gather ideas on how exactly to structure this entity.
The new trustees worried that it made no sense to lock in contracts for two years when CE might be radically changed before then. Trustee Marsha Croninger even wanted to add language that would enable a termination of the contracts “in the event of a reorganization of the Continuing Education” division. Trustee Morris Jurkowitz, who kept quiet most of the night, spoke up to say that what Croninger proposed was a slippery slope and that such contingencies could then be added to any contract. Friedlander said the point was moot because changes would not be implemented within the next year. The board voted down that amendment, but they did opt out of a two-year extension in favor of granting one more year to the administrators.
The only non-consenting vote on that decision was Luis Villegas, who believed the board had created an unnecessary panic among SBCC faculty and students by choosing to review the contracts in the first place. He sparred with the four new trustees on both substance and procedure throughout the meeting. Trustee Joan Livingston did not attend.
Meanwhile, SBCC just released its spring semester CE catalogue, and many advanced arts courses now cost close to $200 for fees and materials, with fewer offerings during after-work hours.