We are writing as a group of faculty members at San Joaquin Delta College to express our concern about mismanagement of funds at the college that undermines the college’s reputation with the taxpayers. We are also writing to inquire why the media have been so inattentive to wasteful spending and the closed-door mentality of the college board and leadership.
The fiscal mismanagement takes many forms. For example, the $255 million bond campaign approved by the voters in March 2004 has produced very little in the way of completed projects on the Stockton campus that have a direct impact on instruction in the classroom. Despite promises of renovation, the only visible accomplishments of bond spending can be seen in the new electronic marquees, the new play areas for the child development center, the new athletic fields under construction, new concrete benches that line the walking paths and the revamped koi pond in the center of campus.
By the end of the fiscal year 2007, nearly $8 million will have been spent on the bond consulting firm, and the board will have committed more than $115 million on the Tracy/Mountain House project alone because of legal disputes and delays in construction. These delays have led the college leadership to abandon key renovation projects initially planned for the Stockton campus, resulting in a process that resembles a bait-and-switch move that leaves San Joaquin County voters holding the hook.
Fiscal mismanagement can also be found in the way the college leadership has addressed the critical problem of health insurance funding. While employee groups have been forced to shoulder massive new out-of-pocket costs for health care this year, college trustees secretly voted themselves continued lifetime benefits at no cost to themselves. This represents an annual benefit that costs the college $90,000 each year — enough funds to hire an additional faculty member.
Meanwhile, district negotiators have failed to reach a settlement with employee groups over a more equitable health care funding formula, despite more than six months of talks. This delay in reaching an agreement is remarkable in a year when the college has healthy budget reserves and the college’s vice president of business services has said that this “may be the best year ever” for community college funding.
Mismanagement can also be seen in the board’s recent actions to schedule private meetings off campus at the Stockton Country Club, ostensibly to hold a “retreat” and discuss the president/superintendent’s performance evaluation. These two off-campus meetings have consumed more than seven hours of secret discussion, but one wonders what has transpired behind closed doors with no publicly reported action taken. This comes from a board that has faced three separate allegations of violating California’s open meeting law in the last two years.
Government works best when officials are held accountable for their actions by an attentive public and a vigilant media. It is time for voters and reporters to start asking questions about the way Delta College is being managed.
Matt Wetstein is a San Joaquin Delta College instructor. Five of his colleagues, Lilia Becerra-Quintor, Joann Cataldo, Sam Hatch, Scot Martin and Diane Oren, also contributed to this commentary.