Santa Barbara City College
Paul Wellman

One of the hottest races in Santa Barbara this season, oddly enough, is the contest to sit on the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees. How unusual is this? Well, this is the first time any of the four incumbents has faced a serious challenge to their tenure, and one of them first assumed the mantle in 1965. The event precipitating this unprecedented battle for their seats was the cutting of and increases in tuition for a number of Adult Ed course offerings. What follows are arguments addressing whether or not the incumbents ought to be replaced by a slate of challengers. Neither of the writers are candidates, but they are veteran political observers and activists with strong and opposing views on this topic.

Sky Not Falling

by Lee Moldaver

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” screamed the fairy tale’s panicky chicken.

Several residents took up the cry, aimed not at the sky, but at City College’s Continuing Education programs. Hear them, and you imagine that Adult Ed is melting down, and that the rest of Santa Barbara City College is soon to follow, that it’s careening out of control.

Meanwhile, back in reality, SBCC’s new Continuing Ed course catalog came out, right on schedule, with more than 2,000 classes. That’s still the largest, best, most affordable program in California. Yes, recession and perpetual state budget crises impact everything. SBCC faced tough budget choices. It’s handling them. That’s what effective leadership does. Adult Ed isn’t imploding; it’s evolving.

Change can unglue people.

Some classes’ eligibility for state reimbursement changed. Favorites like ceramics, sailing, jewelry, and glass-making got hit. The state nuked their status. Vocational retraining, literacy, family health, citizenship training, programs for the disabled, etc., remain mandated priorities.

SBCC had options.

One would have dropped those courses ineligible for state reimbursement and let the private sector meet demand.

Another would have cannibalized limited funds, buffering Adult Ed classes from tuition hikes by stripping dollars from other deserving programs.

The third retains defunded classes, but has students pay the real (“fully allocated”) cost. This affects a small percentage of classes. But it has caused sticker shock.

Adult Ed enjoyed so much hidden underwriting for so long that some students were unaware of the gap between class prices charged and actual costs. No surprise. While subsidies were plentiful, few questioned how our Athens of the West Coast worked. Why should they? Who doesn’t like a bargain?

State law and guidelines, enabling legislation, available or restricted funding, and labor agreements dominate community college, including Adult Ed, operations. They affect which classes can or should be subsidized.

Much as someone wants to take the same jewelry class for the fifth time—because they like the teacher, it gets them out of the house, it raises self-esteem—the state won’t reimburse for it anymore. That’s why several courses saw steep tuition rises this year.

Who blames someone for not wanting to pay more? The corollary question is seldom addressed. From whom would you shift money to backfill lost revenue? Unemployed neighbors trying to retrain for new careers? Expectant young mothers seeking family health and nutrition guidance? People battling back from crippling accidents or illnesses, struggling for more independence? The woman studying to become a citizen? The man striving to learn how to read?

Or should regular SBCC students lose scholarships for basic classes so others can pay less to take, say, sailing? Is that more fair?

Fortunately, such conflicts are infrequent. Most Adult Ed courses and tuition haven’t changed much. Transitional funding was quickly created to help students, case-by-case, when hardship impeded them from taking an essential class. Efforts are already under way to raise more.

SBCC worked through many meetings, public and private, to balance resources and needs. That should be praiseworthy. Some people most upset about these tough choices didn’t participate, or they didn’t hear what’s at stake. Where are better alternatives that address state guidelines and available revenues?

SBCC runs a superior college and a great Adult Ed program. Is “progress” sacking the trustees who nurtured that success? Who brought us presidents and vice presidents like Peter MacDougall, John Romo, Jack Friedlander, Pablo Buckelew, Lynda Fairly, and now Andreea Serban, not to mention the whole West Campus? Is “progress” electing a slate of people who (except for Peter Haslund) have virtually no experience in the community college world?

Swapping effective leaders for empty slogans is Tea Party talk, not meeting Adult Ed’s needs. Would it enhance SBCC’s quality? Improve its funding?

We face challenging times. But the sky is not falling.

Lee Moldaver is a technology consultant and has served on numerous public, private, and nonprofit boards.

For Whom Bell Tolls

by Charmaine Jacobs

The now-infamous City of Bell has seen several of its elected officials hauled into court, maybe to face prison time, for malfeasance and greed on a grand scale. Santa Barbara is no City of Bell, but there are parallels. Like Bell, the City of Santa Barbara is a small place, the voters are well educated and hardworking, and the same question could be asked: How could the townspeople be so sound asleep at the wheel?

Santa Barbara has a financial blind spot, where no civic oversight is available and more than 100 million taxpayer dollars are spent annually: our community college.

SBCC has, under previous competent leadership, been lauded by our community. The incumbents on the Board of Trustees learned that their place was simply to approve what the college president recommended, which worked well under presidents who knew how to build the support of stakeholders and the community. But three years ago, a new SBCC president and a new regime took the helm. They do things differently.

The new president recruits yes-people from outside the region. They are Teflon-coated, take home large administrative salaries, and enjoy unquestioning protection from the incumbent trustees who continue on their path of approving whatever is put before them. This team is leaving a big heel mark on the backs of Santa Barbarans.

The president and incumbent trustees have persisted in their statements to the media that no classes have been cut and no teachers laid off. This is untrue. In fall 2009, almost 100 Adult Ed classes were abruptly cancelled and their teachers “not hired.” SBCC’s own statistics show that the program lost almost 8,000 students compared to the year before.

The new team tried to cut credit classes, also, laying off many part-time faculty. But they were stymied by the remaining teachers, who took in extra students, at minor cost to the college. The new team responded by ordering teachers not to take in any more credit students this fall, even if seats were empty, even if the classes were required for transfer or graduation.

The state made me do it, the trustees claim. The truth is, nobody told them what was really happening, and since they only meet four hours a month and ask no serious questions, they were easy marks for the new president’s agenda.

Perhaps the incumbents have more important things to do during those four hours than initiate public discussion. One recent press release announced that the trustees spent their afternoon rolling up their shirtsleeves to enjoy messy chili dogs in La Playa Stadium’s lavish new press box—whose air conditioning system, it turns out, is inadequate. Costing more than $1,000 per square foot to build, the press box was partially funded by a private donor, but it also cost more than $800,000 in taxpayer money to finish. It is like those shoes you got on sale and wish you hadn’t.

The $800,000 came from Measure V, approved by Santa Barbara voters in 2008, which gave SBCC $77 million for construction of new facilities and rehabilitation of old ones. Measure V money cannot be spent on salaries—but the reverse is not true. So on September 23, the board approved the transfer of $2 million that could have been spent on classes into a facilities maintenance fund. (Planned expenditures include $29,000 for “emergency” repair of a clock tower the clocks of which haven’t agreed on the time for years.) Wish you had that $800,000 for the press box back, so that the trustees could spend it on clocks instead of money meant for teachers and tutors?

While incumbent trustees were wiping their chins, taking in the view, and chowing down in the press box, many SBCC credit students were putting their career plans on hold, unable to enroll in needed courses. A student hoping to complete transfer credits in two years is now looking at three years or longer. But don’t worry, the clocks will get fixed.

Vote no confidence for the incumbent boardmembers in this election. Hold on to your charitable donations until transparency and common sense return to SBCC.

Vote for the educated and caring new candidates for the Board of Trustees.

And ask not for whom the bell tolls …


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