Friday, November 17, 2006

SMC Fiscal and Enrollment Recovery Problems

Thomas J. DonnerSMC has been plagued for many years with intertwined fiscal and enrollment recovery problems. On October 1, 2005, according to SMC's Missed Information Online, then Interim President for Santa Monica College, Thomas J. Donner (now retired) stated in relevant part:

Unfortunately, if we do not achieve [enrollment] recovery to the 2002-03 level, the college will have to cut into its contingency reserve. The worse case would be reducing it from $3.5 million, or 3.1 percent, to $2.5 million, or 2.2 percent.

According to the article, SMC's drastic cutting of classes back in the 2003-2004 school year resulted in a loss of 5000 FTES (full-time equivalent students). SMC's enrollment recovery plan included the following: "early registration, stepped-up marketing and advertising, more aggressive enrollment management, increased online courses, a doubling of the high school dual enrollment class offerings, and the return of select non-credit course offerings, such as ESL."

Santa Monica College's
Annual Report for 2003-2004, submitted to the SMC Board of Trustees on or about June 24, 2004, outlines the severe fiscal and enrollment problems the college has faced and the symbiotic relationship between the two as these pertinent excerpts reveal:

The 2003-04 fiscal year brought to Santa Monica College an intense roller coaster ride. The year began with a continuation of devastating state budget cuts – coupled with no new funds available from growth or from basic skills.

As a result, the year has included painful reductions in class offerings, academic programs, and staffing levels at SMC. Fortunately, the year ends on a note of re-growth and hope that a new administration in Sacramento is ushering in an era of respect for the invaluable contributions community colleges make to California. In between, there has been sweeping change in the state capital and a budget picture – though far from rosy – that at least begins to address the huge inequities in state funding of community colleges.

As of this writing, the state Legislature has still not passed a budget, so we do not know precisely what SMC’s funding will be.

Although the budget news has been mixed, the college has been energized over the past six months or so in its re-growth campaign. Under the state’s complex funding formula for community colleges, SMC must grow 3 percent in 2004-05 over 2002-03. If we don’t, we are penalized financially. Consequently, we have added about 750 course sections in fall 2004 and will plan for a similar increase in spring 2005, as well as nearly 200 more classes in winter 2005. It’s the equivalent of starting up a new college.

The equivalent of starting up a new college? Not knowing precisely what SMC's funding will be? Hmm... Precisely how much will SMC be "penalized financially"? SMC once again outlines its enrollment recovery strategy as follows:

We have stepped up our high school outreach efforts, including daily tours for high school groups. We have expanded and carefully targeted out-of-state and international student recruitment. We have moved up and streamlined our application process. We have implemented a major expansion of Financial Aid. And we have established a centrally located Welcome Center, to be open through Sept. 10, that will be a “one-stop shop” for enrollment, orientation, counseling, fee payment, financial aid and more.

Piedad RobertsonSMC states in its annual report that much of its financial fate lies in Sacramento. Of course to pave this inroad to the state capital, then President
Piedad Robertson formed a strategic alliance with Secretary of Education Richard Riordan as well as ensuring both SMC administrators Margaret Quinones and Benita Haley secured positions on Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's prestigious Board of Governors (BOG). Riordan's relationship with Robertson continued to be a financially lucrative one for both long after Robertson's forced resignation from SMC in 2005. That same year that Robertson left SMC to assume power of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) in Denver, Colorado, Riordan gave the ECS $20,000.

SMC returned the financial favor on or about February 13, 2006, according to the SMC
Board of Trustee Minutes, when the college donated what is merely described as "surplus miscellaneous computer equipment" to the Riordan Foundation. It is not described with particularity precisely what equipment was donated and who made the decision that this computer equipment was in fact "surplus." Additionally, $6000 or 20% of Margaret Quinones' total campaign budget for her re-election to SMC's Board of Trustees came from Richard Riordan.

What is the current result of all of SMC's enrollment recovery efforts? According to the SMC Board of Trustee Minutes for September 13, 2006, enrollment is down by 3.5 percent compared to Fall 2005. According to the Superintendent's Report by President Chui L. Tsang, "great strides have been made and aggressive efforts are continuing to attract and retain students." There is no indication what SMC is actually doing to recover enrollment.

However, what is indicated in this Board of Trustees minutes is that the administration and the Board are again flowing tax dollars into yet another consultant contract. This time, the NTI Group, Inc. will receive between "$32,000 for 180,000 message units (including support fee)" for almost one entire year for the alleged purpose of recording and tracking thousands of voice messages "to improve student communication throughout the enrollment management process, providing opportunities to improve outreach and retention services through targeted messages, by telephone, to students." Additionally, in Spring 2007, the enrollment fee will be dropped from $27 per unit to $20 to further aid in luring prospective students to the college.

What does SMC's employees have to say about all this? According to an article in the Santa Monica College Mirror for May 2005 entitled
Celebrity Jeopardy, Phil Hendricks, SMC Payroll Specialist, and Carl Gettleman, SMC Academic Computing Instructional Specialist, made the following commentary:

Not content with having nearly plunged Santa Monica College into bankruptcy -- bucking the national tide by killing vocational education classes when other colleges were promoting them -- losing 6000 FTEs (students) and spending millions to partially recover enrollment -- getting the worst accreditation report in SMC history -- failing to conclude contract negotiations for nearly three years with classified staff and nearly a year with faculty -- winding up on the Chancellor’s fiscal watch list for the first time in SMC history (only one of three out of over 100 community colleges in the State) -- top-loading the organization with more administrative dead weight ($10 million worth) than the cemetery across the street -- dumping millions of dollars of inventory from the axed Automotive Program during a budget crisis -- buying millions of dollars of unusable software -- acquiring millions of dollars of unused property -- supporting a College President with a near unanimous disapproval rating, who deserted the ship she tried to scuttle when her ten years were up -- appointing a provost to a campus that doesn’t yet exist -- purchasing the most expensive equipment parking lot in the history of Santa Monica (14th and Pico) — building a million dollar driveway from bond money to access the increasingly contentious
Bundy campus -- inflicting the taxpayers of Santa Monica with $300 million worth of bond debt -- The Santa Monica Community College District has managed, against all odds and anyone’s comprehension, to surpass itself once again by inviting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be the keynote speaker at the College’s 2005 graduation.

The Santa Monica Outlook also published a few negative editorials about SMC. In their online issue for September 30, 2003 entitled
Shattering Democratic Values and "Who's in Charge?", Phil Hendricks, President CSEA (Classified School Employees Association) Chapter 36 Santa Monica College wrote in relevant part:

The publicly elected SMC Board of Trustees continually proclaim, "It's about the students." Yet one of the most troubling aspects of recent votes by the Board isthe damage done to the SMC students. Any belief students may have had in the values of democracy have been shattered after observing the Board's performance.

While these same Board members blithely mouth their concern over students' low voter turnout and involvement in the democratic process, how can this Board have any doubt that its actions and inactions teach our students anything except that the process is rigged, that corruption, even when brought to light, dominates the American democratic process, and that individual action does not matter? Can students fail to learn that largely only those interested in milking the system for self-aggrandizement or personal advantage are interested in participating?

But the College Board is right about one thing -- it is about the students! SMC belongs to them. SMC belongs to the students, the community that paid for it, and those who built its reputation.

CSEA (the classified staff union) believes that the law has a meaning beyond mere words; that looking the other way while the current Administration knowingly makes misstatements is the mark of failure; that hiding a mountain of ethical and financial missteps behind a legitimate budget crisis is evidence of moral decay; that keeping quiet and not questioning is not the natural order; that win or lose, it is far better to take a stand, than to wring hands and say and do nothing.

Hendricks not only discusses the strife among the classified union with SMC's administration, but among the Associated Student Presidents and Student Trustees. He writes the following:

When Associated Student Presidents and Student Trustees have confided their disbelief, despair and rage at having been misused, misled, manipulated, and discounted by the Administration and the College Board, and ask us why, and what to do, and how to proceed, we counsel perseverance.

Ryan Flegal speaking to a female USC Student - circa 1999To show how low the SMC administration will stoop to any criticism about its operations, one merely needs to look at how this same administration uses its campus police department to silence its critics. According to district court records, on or about December 19, 1997, SMC Associated Student President Ryan Flegal (see photo: Flegal on far right) was working on student business when an SMC campus police officer threatened him with arrest if he did not leave his office. When Flegal requested, on or about December 23, 1997, the SMCPD's legal authority for such a wrongful act, he received no reply. Instead, on or about February 22, 1999, the SMCPD refused to allow the Associated Student representatives into their offices.

The situation escalated into full blown retaliation and malicious prosecution by the SMCPD, ratified by the SMC Administration and then President Piedad Robertson, when in late April 1998, the campus police actually arrested both Ryan Flegal and Konstantine Theoharis. Their crime? They were working late into the night in their Associated Student assigned offices to finish a report that was due the next day for the visiting California State Accreditation Team. Both Flegal and Theorharis eventually were victorious in their criminal cases against SMC. However, a month later on or about May 18, 1998, the SMCPD again wielded its unlawful power and arrested two other SMC student representatives, Sharon Lungo and Kelly Taylor.

It is important to point out the timeline here. When the first wrongful arrest against Flegal and Theoharis occurred on December 19, 1997, it was preceded by a letter Flegal wrote Robertson less than two weeks earlier. On or about December 10, 1997, Flegal, acting in his capacity as Associated Student President, wrote the following:

Dr. Robertson, you have blackmailed and extorted the students of [SMC] into funding your questionably legal account. You have threatened the students of this college with severe vindictive retaliation if we do what I believe is right and stop giving you a blank check to wine and dine employees of the district and buy yourself future favors with the money of starving students. Before I let you use another cent of the student's money, I want legal advice about your actions surrounding this account.

Robertson gave him her answer, a false arrest. Flegal was referring to Piedad Robertson's Slush Fund, known affectionately as the "President's Public Relations Account." of every $10.00 paid per semester by each SMC student for their A.S. fee, 50 cents went into Robertson's account to do as she pleased. [See:
First Amended Complaint for Damages, Injunctive and Declaratory Relief].

According to Carl Gettleman, Academic Computing Instructional Specialist for Santa Monica College, the president of the school is not supposed to be the sole authority. Rather, the college is required to participate in "shared governance." However, according to Gettleman, "there has been a near total breakdown of the system of governance at SMC." He further alleges that SMC's Board of Trustees did not exercise control over President Robertson, as it should have, but that she in fact controlled the Board. This has been confirmed in other SMC documents.

Gettlemen concludes his editorial with the following comments:

The College's mission is to educate students, yet there is no evidence that the President's approach to deficit reduction is the best way to adhere to that mission. Indeed, in the considered opinion of most of us who work here and who attend school here, it is not.

Most of the students at SMC will go on to work in one kind of organization or another. When that happens you will be quite concerned with how your employer manages the enterprise where you make your living. You will not like it when the Boss behaves like an absolute monarch and uses his or her power unfairly or unreasonably. Yet this is precisely what is happening here at the College where you are supposed to be getting an education. And frankly, it is a travesty.

SMC and Humpty DumptyFor more than a year, we've shown documentation that funds were hidden at Santa Monica College, that the SMC administration has retaliated against and violated the rights of its students, staff, and faculty for years on end, that SMC has been described in writing as a community of distrust and disrespect, and that it has failed on many levels to live up to its promises. Is it any wonder the administration cannot recover its enrollment? As the Mother Goose nursery rhyme goes:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the King's horses
And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Perhaps it is time for the SMC Administration and Board of Trustees to step aside and allow the faculty, staff, and students to share in governing the college.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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