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Peralta Considers Compton College By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Tuesday March 28, 2006

The state chancellor of the California Community College system has asked the Peralta Colleges to become the administrative agent for Compton Community College in an effort to keep the troubled, 6,600-student Southern California school from being disbanded on June 30 because of loss of accreditation. 

Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris, who has been working on the takeover deal for several weeks, has recommended approval to the Peralta Board of Trustees. 

But details of the proposed administrative takeover are so sketchy that even trustee supporters of the proposal said they would not commit until they see more information, and the Peralta Federation of Teachers is requesting that the proposal include language that protects Compton’s employees and existing union contracts. 

Peralta was apparently not the first choice of state Community College Chancellor Mark Drummond to take over the Compton District. Peralta Trustee Cy Gulassa said it was his understanding that “six or seven districts within driving distance of Compton were approached, but none of those wanted to intervene.” 

Enabling legislation for the takeover of the Compton district by another community college district was drafted by California State Senator Mervyn Dymally (D-Los Angeles) a year ago and is presently sitting in limbo in the Senate Education Committee. However, sources at Peralta say that the legislation is being written in key parts to reflect concerns by Peralta representatives. 

The Peralta Board of Trustees is scheduled to formally review the Compton proposal for the first time tonight (Tuesday), first in closed session and then in public session at the board’s regular meeting to begin at 7 p.m. at the Peralta Administration offices, 333 East 8th St. in Oakland. 

“Compton is the only historically-black community college we have in California, and I’m in favor in principle of doing what we can to save it,” Peralta Trustee Alona Clifton said on Friday. “But the devil is in the details, and I haven’t seen the details yet.” 

“I’m glad that the state chancellor’s office has asked us to intervene,” Peralta Board President Linda Handy said in a telephone interview early this week. “At least it shows that they are working on the problem and not just walking away and allowing the dismantling of Compton.” 

But Handy added that “my first responsibility is as a Peralta trustee, and I have to make sure that this is something which Peralta can do. The full proposal has not yet been worked out, so I don’t know what position I will take.” 

But Trustee Gulassa says that the lack of information on the proposal prior to its appearance on Tuesday’s board agenda “irritates the hell out of me. There’s been a total lack of information. There has been no briefing of trustees. I’ve not heard anything but second or third hand gossip.” 

Gulassa said that when he attempted to ask questions of Peralta administrators after the administrators came back from trips to Compton “the only thing I got back was one word answers. I’ve talked with faculty senate representatives, and they say they are only getting second hand information. It appears that they are out of the loop as well. I am distressed that this issue may have tremendous value, but the way it is being presented to the Peralta constituents devalues it.” 

With the information that he has so far, Gulassa said “it just does not make any sense for Peralta to take this on. Elihu has described this as ‘missionary work,’ and It is a noble idea for one institution to keep another one from going under, but if your own church is burning, you don’t run off trying to help someone else. Saving Compton is a worthwhile mission, but we’re probably not the ones to do it. I’m categorically opposed unless somebody comes up with more detail.” 

The background report in the agenda packet for Tuesday’s trustee meeting does not provide any details on the proposal, but includes only a proposed resolution for trustees. The resolution would authorize the Peralta Chancellor’s office to “enter into any necessary agreements” with the Compton Community College District and the State Chancellor’s office to facilitate the administrative takeover.  

While the resolution would authorize Harris to work with the state chancellor and state officials “to obtain the financial resources” to facilitate Peralta’s administrative takeover, the proposed amount of financial resources to be provided for Peralta is one of the details that was not available to trustees or the public prior to the meeting. 

While the resolution gives no timeline as to how long the Peralta-Compton arrangement would be in effect, the resolution calls on state officials to “developing a recovery plan aimed at restoring accreditation to Compton College.” 

Meanwhile, the Peralta Federation of Teachers union, has expressed skepticism over the deal. 

Saying that “the PFT cannot allow the [Peralta] District to be a party to ‘union busting,’ union officials say that under the original state legislation authorizing an administrative takeover of Compton “the unions and their contract were to be dissolved and the 109 faculty and 200 staff were to be laid off and stripped of their seniority, rehire and bump rights.” 

A message to Peralta teachers on the PFT website said that this legislative language was “not an accurate reflection of the strong statements uttered by the State Chancellor” in support of union rights, and is urging that the authorizing state legislation include language that “would honor Compton’s existing unions, their bargaining agreements and their rehire rights.” 

In addition to its concerns over union rights issues, the PFT report said that the organization has raised questions with Chancellor Harris over whether the Compton proposal might have an adverse effect on passage of the district’s upcoming $390 million construction bond measure, whether the responsibilities might place an “administrative burden” because of the 400 mile distance between the East Bay and Compton, and whether Peralta has a “readiness for another battle with WASC after spending countless person hours to remove our four colleges from WASC’s Warning List.” 

The Peralta Colleges have just come out from under an accreditation battle of its own. At its January meeting, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ (WASC) Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges announced that based upon its most recent progress reports and visits, it was removing Merritt, Laney, Berkeley City College (formerly Vista College), and the College of Alameda from “warning” status. 

While accreditation had never been removed from the four Peralta Colleges, the “warning” status puts colleges on notice that their accreditation could be removed if WASC’s required improvements were not made.  

Compton Community College, which was founded in 1927 as part of the Compton Union High School District and was later split off as a separate college district in 1950, became an overwhelmingly African-American college in the 1960s. Since the mid-1990s the college has seen an influx of Latino students, and the student population is presently 54 percent African-American and 40 percent Latino. 

WASC announced it was pulling its accreditation of Compton last summer and called for intervention by State Chancellor Mark Drummond because of findings of fiscal and educational mismanagement by the college administration and board.  

According to a notice on Drummond’s workshop, WASC “concluded that Compton College could not manage its own recovery.” 

Since that time, Drummond has taken over management of the college, appointing a special trustee, and at the same time looking for another California community college district to take over administrative responsibilities. 

If trustees approve the Compton administrative takeover, it will be the Peralta district’s second experience in long-distance operations. 

From 1968 to 1988, Peralta was the administrative agent for Feather River College in Plumas County, a relationship that the online Feather River history calls “a unique and innovative educational experiment” between two districts geographically separated by more than 250 miles.” 

The history goes on to say that “in 1988, it was determined that the future of Feather River College and the needs of the citizens of Plumas County would be best served if the college became and independent, locally controlled community college district.” 

The Feather River Community College district was formed in 1988, a Board of Trustees was elected, and the online history concludes that “the District entered a new era that one faculty member described as its ‘declaration of independence.’””