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Peralta Trustees Explore Takeover of Compton District By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

Friday March 31, 2006

A cautious Peralta Board of Trustees gave Chancellor Elihu Harris limited authority to explore the administrative takeover of the troubled Compton Community College District, but only after inserting language giving the board a greater say in the outcome. 

The controversial proposal passed on a 5-1-1 vote at Tuesday’s trustee meeting, with Trustee Nicky Gonzalez-Yuen abstaining because of disagreements over when Harris would be required to report back to the board, and Trustee Marcie Hodge voting no. 

Trustee William Riley said that he was “dumbfounded that out of 109 community colleges in the state, Peralta was the only one it came down to. It makes me wonder, if we were in the same situation as Compton, would somebody come to our aid? The way it looks now, nobody would.” 

Board President Linda Handy added “if not us” stepping in to help, “then who?” 

Handy said that while there were “still more questions than answers” about the proposed takeover, she said that she was confident that there was “a powerful team working on providing those answers.” 

She included Chancellor Harris and California Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally as members of that “powerful team.” 

And Vice President Bill Withrow said that while “we are still not at ease” about the proposal and “we don’t yet know what role we will be playing,” he said that “knowing [Chancellor Harris] like I do, I know that this will be a collaborative effort with both the Peralta and the Compton stakeholders.” 

Following the vote, Harris said that he would immed iately have his staff members begin meeting with Compton officials, faculty, employees, and students to hear their concerns about the proposed takeover. 

But while saying that the Peralta Federation of Teachers would support the administrative takeover “s o long as we can make sure that Peralta is not harmed in any way” and union rights in both districts are protected, PFT President Michael Mills blasted the state accreditation body whose actions have brought Compton College to the brink of closure. He sai d that the Western Association of Schools and Colleges’ actions in taking away Compton’s accreditation are unconscionable. 

“WASC is functioning as a star chamber,” he said. “The problem at Compton was being taken care of. The Board of Trustees was stripp ed of its power, and a trustee was appointed by the State Chancellor to oversee the district. We can understand WASC’s concerns over the financial problems at WASC, but that had nothing to do with quality of the academic content at the school. Don’t punis h the administrators and students. They didn’t do anything wrong. If the trustees broke the law, put those sons-of-bitches in jail. But why take away the college’s accreditation? Why is WASC’s actions continuing? Compton’s not the story. WASC is the story.”  

Compton, which operates a single college that had a 6,600 student enrollment in 2004, began its present round of problems in January of 2003, when reports of financial problems and irregularities were received by the office of State Community College Chancellor Mark Drummond. A year later, Drummond put the district on a Priority One watch list, installed a Special Trustee to run the college, and later suspended the trustee board itself. 

But Drummond’s actions apparently did not satisfy the Western A ssociation of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the same body that accredits the Peralta District colleges. 

Shortly after the state chancellor’s office took over operation of Compton, WASC stripped the district of its accreditation. Compton was allowed to rem ain open pending an appeal, but a denial of that appeal by WASC could mean the closure of the school as early as the end of the spring semester. 

A month ago, after several other state community colleges passed on the job, Drummond asked Peralta Chancello r Harris to explore the possibility of Peralta’s taking over administration of Compton College until the school is able to regain its accreditation.  

If Compton’s appeal of its accreditation removal is upheld, the takeover will not be necessary. 

At Tuesday’s Peralta trustee meeting, Chancellor Harris made an appeal for adoption of the resolution authorizing his office to explore the administrative takeover, saying that “many students in the Compton area will not be served if Compton College goes out of existence.” 

Stating that the state chancellor’s office has promised to pay Peralta’s administrative costs, and proposed legislation by California Assemblymember Mervyn Dymally (D-Los Angeles) “would create a firewall so that there will be no legal exposu re to Peralta,” Harris said that the administrative takeover “will allow us to do a good deed with no detriment to ourselves.” 

The chancellor was joined in his appeal to the trustees Tuesday night by Assemblymember Dymally and members of the Compton Coll ege staff. 

Dymally assured trustees that the takeover was envisioned only as a “temporary relationship,” and that he would consult Peralta officials and staff members to make sure that their concerns were addressed in his supporting legislation. 

But while Harris assured trustees that the resolution authorizing exploration of the administrative takeover “by no means signifies that this is a done deal or an agreement” and was requested by the state chancellor’s office only “to show that we intend to work with this process,” Peralta trustees balked at the resolution’s original language that some said earlier would have given Harris “carte blanche” to forge an agreement. 

Instead of authorizing Harris to “enter into” the agreement with Compton, board member s substituted language—co-written in intense negotiations over a 24 hour period by Board Vice President Bill Withrow and Trustee Cy Gulassa—to authorize Harris only to “explore the development” of those agreements. 

Gulassa said that under the original resolution “again we’re being asked to ‘trust me.’ We’ve been asked to ‘trust me’ too often, and ‘trust me’ can get you into trouble.” 

Gulassa called the amendments a “cautionary step backwards.” 

The resolution requires Harris to submit a final agreement to the trustee board “no later than June 30.” 

Shortly after Harris gave assurances to Gulassa that he would make periodic reports to the board and the public on the progress of the negotiations with Compton officials over the takeover, board members rejected an amendment by Trustee Gonzalez-Yuen that would have required Harris to submit the final agreement by May 23. 

Gonzalez-Yuen said he wanted the final proposal to be submitted prior to the end of June—widely-reported as the proposed closure date for Compton—because “I don’t want to have staff come here and say there’s no time for adjustments to the proposal, telling us ‘if you don’t vote for this exactly as it is, Compton is dead.’” Harris told trustees that the June 30 closure date was incorrect, an d that Compton could be closed any time WASC decides to upon rejection of the appeal. 

In announcing her opposition to the takeover, Trustee Hodge called the takeover proposal “dangerous and irresponsible. We cannot educate the world.” 

Saying that she fe ared that siphoning off Peralta resources to Compton “could jeopardize the educational mission at Peralta,” Hodge said she was concerned that “in two years, Peralta could be left bankrupt and holding the bag.” 

Asked following the vote for his position on the proposed Compton administrative takeover, Peralta District Academic Senate President Joseph Belinski said, “I don’t know. I need something in writing before I can react. My next step will be to ensure that the District Academic Senate is involved in the negotiations.”