The Kern Community College District Board of Trustees met at Bakersfield College on April 10, and our BC family, faculty, staff, administration, and students attended in numbers to provide insight and information to our leaders. The two important topics that the audience addressed were: (1) Community Colleges offering a baccalaureate degree and (2) the proposal for an increased budget reserve.
The reason for this blog is not to discuss the merits or demerits of the arguments since those of you reading it may have differing perspectives, but rather to make visible to you what I saw that afternoon in those speakers who boldly and sensitively addressed the topics. There were many speakers–Cindy Collier, SGA leadership, Klint Rigby just to name a few. Each and every speaker addressed the Board with respect, clarity of thought, and a passion for what we do for our students and community. I asked three of them to share with me the written remarks that they addressed to the Board so that you, like me, could take a moment to enjoy the community that we work with. All true Renegades! All of whom I am proud to work with.
Let’s now hear from three of the speakers:
Last week I saw a presentation by Milken Institute and KEDC concerning economic planning for Kern County. Milken representatives gave an example of strategic growth for a community in central Florida that wanted to build a research hospital. The state was not in favor because there were research hospitals to the north and south of this area and did not see the need. Community leaders argued for this hospital because they wanted their community to be known as a medical research resource. They now have 3 of the leading medical research hospitals in the country and have boosted the economics of their area. These community leaders had a vision for what their community could look like.
I think we have that same opportunity. We can provide educational services in reaction to workforce data or we can be strategic in what we want education to look like in Kern County. It may very well play a part in driving the workforce development in our area. We need to be visionary rather than reactionary.
One of the strengths of Bakersfield College is our existing Industrial Technology program – automotive, welding, electronics, industrial drawing, etc. We have stellar facilities and an existing infrastructure that can support the development of a bachelor’s program in Industrial Technology. Currently, CSUB does not offer an Industrial Technology bachelor’s degree – a degree that would support technical management, industrial safety, quality assurance, and other industry positions requiring more than an Associate’s degree or two-year Certificate of Achievement. Typically there are over 200 annual openings for these types of positions with a median income of $85,000.
A baccalaureate degree in Industrial Technology will also provide a unique educational opportunity for first generation students who may not have the resources to transfer to four-year universities outside our area. Providing a broad based four-year program in a technical area will build capacity for meeting the educational needs of our rural service areas.
I ask that you support Bakersfield College’s educational vision for our community by offering baccalaureate degrees.
My name is Kate Pluta, and it’s a pleasure to address the board on behalf of Bakersfield College and its students. I have been a part of this college for almost 35 years (over a third of this college’s existence!), both part-time and full-time, as a librarian and as an English teacher, and as a student.
I consider it a right, an honor, and a responsibility to be able to address you directly.
I have served as Bakersfield College Academic Senate President, District Faculty Association President, and Modern Languages Division Chair for English, ESL, and Foreign Languages.
I am currently faculty co-chair of the Bakersfield College Program Review Committee and the Accreditation Steering Committee, which “steered” the college through this last accreditation process of the Self Evaluation and the Follow up Reports.
I have served on eight accreditation site visit teams, visiting colleges here in California, in Hawaii, and in the Federated States of Micronesia.
I believe in what I do. I believe in what our college does. I believe in my students.
I imagine most of you serve on this board because, like me, you believe in the work you do—in supporting the colleges to provide excellent educational and life opportunities for our students.
When the most recent budget crisis hit us, I spoke out in support of the prudence of the board in maintaining a reserve that allowed us to weather the storms without borrowing additional funds or laying off employees.
I appreciated the flexibility that prudence gave us. That flexibility is a characteristic of the community college role in the master plan of higher education—to be flexible enough to respond to and meet our communities’ needs as they change.
But now I am puzzled and concerned.
Requiring a reserve of 15% in board policy does not allow for flexibility. It ties our hands.
Instead of being able to respond effectively to our students’ and our communities’ needs and the ever growing number of state and federal mandates, requiring a reserve of 15% in board policy limits our ability to respond.
Now, when the economy is improving and the state budget is more stable, why would you vote to codify a reserve of 15% when the state requires 5% and when your own goal of 10% has been sufficient during difficult times?
Just this week Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee cited a Census Report for state tax collections in 2013: California’s tax collections jumped by $18.2 billion last year. http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2014/04/californias-tax-collections-jumped-by-182-percent-in-2013.html (handouts to board).
As accreditation training points out, the college mission guides planning. It guides everything we do. The mission of this district is not to accumulate and guard the taxpayers’ funds. The mission of this district is to allocate those funds wisely, supporting its colleges in the programs and services they offer our communities and our students.
Why would you tie up the money we taxpayers pay to support our colleges and communities?
When does prudence cross the line into inflexibility?
When does it cripple the colleges?
You are the Trustees not of the reserves but of the district and its colleges—and its students.
I urge you to maintain your past practice that carried us through recent budget storms.
Steer the ship.
Don’t sink it.
As you can see by the turnout today, the issue of increased reserves is a matter of interest to a great many of us.
KCCD was able to weather the recent economic downturn by keeping reserve levels as high as 20 per cent plus. It did not take a Board policy mandate to do this. Now, that the economic climate has taken a more positive turn, the move to increase the district reserves to a 15% minimum, along with 3% mandated college reserves, is puzzling.
All over campus, I hear of faculty and classified positions that have been lost and not replaced, of technology and other components of basic infrastructure that need to be budgeted for or upgraded, of classes that students cannot get into because they fill up quickly or are offered only occasionally. In my department, two librarians are retiring–one position is slated not to be replaced, and the other position is in question. This means we are losing 40% of our faculty at a time when the number of students lacking in college level research skills is surging and campus-wide research demands are increasing due to the transfer model curriculum requirement of 10 pages of writing in the social and behavioral sciences. This is just one example. Across our campus, we need to address the service, program, and staffing needs that were lost or underfunded during the recent economic crisis, but are crucial to student success.
In addition, we need to look to the future and explore the many new opportunities and incentives that have the potential to enhance student success and equity. Here at BC we are being asked to participate in and support: The Student Success Initiative; Transfer Model Curriculum; Achieving the Dream; the potential for a Title V grant for Hispanic Serving Institutions; Habits of Mind; the Basic Skills Initiative, C-Six, STEM and more. While many of these are currently funded through grants, those funds will eventually go away, and sustainability requires a financial commitment on the part of the colleges and the District.
Goal number one of the District as listed in the Trustees’ policy manual is to “become an exemplary model of student success,” but this cannot be accomplished without a concerted effort to invest in student success. Our front-line personnel—the faculty and classified staff who help students succeed because they are there to help them one-on-one, advise them, teach them and mentor them–are being asked to take on more and as a consequence have less time to spend with students, not because they don’t want to, but because departments are under staffed, resources are stretched too thin, and the classes students need aren’t there. It seems to me like the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. In light of the new emphasis on performance-based funding, I do not understand how a 15% plus reserve can help our colleges accomplish our core mission of education and student success when we are not fully addressing past losses, present needs, and possibly spinning our wheels on new programs that may disappear for lack of sustainable investment.
The money we receive from the state of California was given to us for the purpose of education, not to be held in an interest earning account for a rainy day—especially, while many of the current needs of our students go unmet. I understand the need for fiscal responsibility; I think this can easily be dealt with using the state mandated 5% minimum reserve which can be adjusted upward as necessary; what is at stake here is flexibility, and an investment in the students we have right now. Please do not tie the hands of our District and our three colleges.