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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Herding cats: Policy and Reality

Just a brief update on the Brown Act.  Here’s the opinion of Richard Mahon, published by the ASCCC:  Herding Cats…

He cites California Attorney General opinion 83-304, dated July 28, 1983, in which the Attorney General finds that Academic Senates must follow the Brown Act because they are subsidiary creations of a School Board.

The ASCCC has tried to do training on this for some time, by the Constitutions, By-Laws and participatory governance documents of many colleges do not line up with Brown Act requirements.  It could be that many Senates are ignoring their own by-laws and following the Brown Act anyway, but can’t find the time to revise their documents (it can be a lengthy process).

I went and looked at 11 more or less randomly chosen California community colleges and found that constitutions and by-laws/manuals run this way:  8 do not follow the Brown Act, 3 do.  I hope to find out more about this at the plenary session in November.

Not everyone agrees with Richard Mahon, of course, but I think his position is the official position of the ASCCC and that’s good enough for me.  He also says the Brown Act applies to subcommittees (so we’re all good at OC).

But it leaves me scratching my head about the District’s Committees – they are subcommittees of the Board itself.  They are not following the Brown Act and their PGHandbook specifically states they don’t have to.

Can anyone explain that to me?  Anyway, see yesterday’s much longer post on the Brown Act for more of my puzzlement.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Background & Viewpoint, District Level Documents, Laws

 

The Brown Act

Several people have suggested to me that the recent “suspension” of the Brown Act by the California Legislature means local educational boards and governance entities do not have to follow it.  I do not agree with that interpretation.  For one thing, the Brown Act is a federal issue, and for another, the California bill did not suspend the act – it suspended funding for local agencies that had been receiving funds to help implement the act.

Further, both the Ed. Code and Title V have similar provisions for transparency in public education.  The main intent of all of this is to make sure meetings are open and no one can be turned away, asked to involuntarily sign in, or be “vetted” in any way in order to attend and  listen/view the meeting.  These are values I strongly believe in, as do the members of the Oxnard College Academic Senate and Oxnard College Administration, as they agreed to follow these principles in our manual of shared governance.

Having said that, the Legislature is recognizing that funds are lacking for the actual staff and resources to comply with the Brown Act.  Yes, that’s how bad it is, budget wise.

But in researching the Brown Act, rather obsessively, for the last few days, I learned some very interesting things.

Indoor bulletin boards in regular office buildings are a NO-NO

Posting on an indoor bulletin board of any kind, while nice, does not meet the requirements of the Brown Act unless that building is open and accessible to the public 24 hours a day for the 3 days prior to the meeting.  24 hours a day.  Not 8 or 9 or 12 hours.  It can be a window that’s visible from outside.  It is good practice to include at the bottom of every agenda exactly where the place should be.  Our own VCCCD Board of Trustees (Patty Blair is an expert in this, btw, if you have questions), has a glassed in bulletin board outside the building, which is accessible 24 hours a day.  They post in advance of the 72 hours (good job, VCCCD BOT).

This is an easy fix.  Any kiosk will do.  Post as low as needed for a seated person in a wheelchair to read it.  The kiosk is probably best located near to where the meeting is going to be held.  Windows are okay, too – and probably more likely to be seen.  We’ll have to talk about that.

Now, this sounds primitive.  Everyone and their brother knows that what we really do is post on the internet.  That’s perfectly okay as long as you also post in a totally FREE spot (the internet costs money; libraries aren’t open 24 hours a day, etc., etc).  

Some people think that California’s AB 1344 makes it okay to JUST use an online posting.  Nope.  What it says is that if the posting body (in this case, our Academic Senate) has its own webpage (we don’t), then we CAN post there IN ADDITION to posting in the free, publicly available space.  Here is what AB 1344 amended:

SEC. 8. Section 54954.2 of the Government Code is amended to read:

54954.2. (a) (1) At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words. The agenda shall specify the time and location of the regular meeting and shall be posted in a location that is freely accessible to members of the public AND on the local agency’s Internet Web site, if the local agency has one.  (my emphasis added).

We (the Academic Senate) are the local educational association in question (and by the way, local educational entities made up entirely of employees, as we are, are specifically exempted from some other rules about online posting that have recently been proposed but not yet enacted).  The website you are reading now is my own website (it does not belong to the Academic Senate, it may be useful to the Academic Senate – just like an indoor bulletin board).  The Academic Senate does not have its own website but our local governance document (the Participatory Governance Manual) provides for our use of the College’s website, which is as it should be.  

So we don’t have to post on the internet – but we do it anyway.  In two places:  sharepoint and on the college’s webpage.  It is voluntary, which is useful, because our Academic Senate President is off raising money to cure Breast Cancer right now and we had to have a flurry of emails while she’s trying to focus on her run in order to post our revised agenda (which went out by email, and was – yes – posted on TWO kiosks near to the meeting place!)  Revised agendas, by the way, do not need to be posted 72 hours in advance (obviously) but 24 hours in advance – and we exceeded that.   Not because we have to.  But because we believe, and affirm, that following the Brown Act (even if we don’t have to) is part of a representative, democratic, anti-backroom politics kind of transparency.  Who would disagree with that, right?

Which brings me to another lesson (my own lesson, I am learning it).  Who is subject to the Brown Act in the first place?  Why aren’t all those District Committees subject to the Brown Act (or are they?)  They do post “notes” but not minutes.  Sometimes they ratify their notes (usually, not always).  Consultation Council is clearly a body designed to influence the actions of the Board, it should be Brown Act (MY opinion; but also the opinion of Michelle Pilati, if I understood her correctly today – and she referred me to someone she says is expert in this area).  Our own PGM specifically states that committees follow the Brown Act (and I hope to do a little revising to make that even more clear; I think that some of the subcommittees of the Academic Senate are specifically bound to follow the Brown Act – but some Academic Senates have language in their charters that exempt them from the Brown Act; so go figure).

But…does CUDS (for example) fall under the Brown Act?  Here are the triggers for the Brown Act:

Are you a Board of Trustees for a state educational institution?  (No, we are not; CUDS is not).

Are you a group specifically created by or authorized to provide direct feedback to the Board? (Yes, the Academic Senate is; CUDS is not).

Do you constitute a regularly meeting group that advises a group that is authorized to give direct feedback to the Board?  (Well, hmmm.  Last year CUDS didn’t report back to Senate, even once; it recommended actions by M & O, it recommended actions to the police; it’s in our shared governance handbook BUT it does say that it “advises” or “recommends” to the Senate).  But here’s the good part:  in our own Participatory Governance Handbook, we say that we, as a local group, expect PGM committees to behave as Brown Act entities.  This is by local decision.  Probably a very good idea.  By the way, CUDS is supposed to report back to the Senate.  Is reporting considered “advice”?  No.  Should we add the word “advice” to our PGM.  Yes.  That’s what CUDS does, so we should be clear about it – and then CUDS falls under the Brown Act.  

So, I think we should revise the PGM just a tiny bit (we’re revising anyway) to make sure that each of the PGM committees says specifically in its charge that it reports to and advises the Senate as needed.  Right?

Now – after all that, what if we really don’t have staff to post on the internet and the State has passed a bill exempting us, for budgetary reasons, from posting.  Well, we don’t have to post, we will not be prosecuted in the State of California.

But my new mantra is:

KIOSKS.  There’s one right by the library, there’s another one between the OE building and the Admin Building – let’s pick one and use it regularly.  And, while we’re at it, we will bring all of our agendas into compliance with the ADA, which currently they are not.  Maybe windows (although for some reason that bothers me aesthetically).  I’m hoping to get a nice label on the Kiosk near the Library and put a little notice to reserve one half of one of the three sides for Academic Senate and PGM postings.  Then, our workers will only have to post in one place (as required) and there won’t be so much running around and potential for missing Brown Act requirements.  Remember, only the physical posting is required; the electronic posting is voluntary – but we will continue to do it.  However, should the servers go down, and we’ve posted properly according to Federal rules we can proceed.  This isn’t just my opinion, there’s case law here too.

These are scary times.  Apparently the County of Mendocino and a few other places are no longer posting agendas anywhere (just how much can that cost?  It can be taped in a window!)  The “cost reimbursement” was originally supposed to be for ADA compliance (people who need a Braille agenda, for example).  It got up to about $98,000,000 in claims for state money for Braille agendas, large print agendas, spoken word agendas, etc.  So they had to suspend all public support of the Brown Act for that reason – but that does not mean that we can’t volunteer to safeguard our freedoms.

KIOSKS.   Am I going to stop putting things up on sharepoint?  Of course not.  But on a day when I revise an agenda and our AS Secretary is off duty, and I don’t yet have Omniupdate permissions, I know now that KIOSKS are my friend.  I will continue to pester all of you with agenda changes, supporting documents (don’t have to be mailed at any particular time or put on kiosks OR sharepoint – but we will but them on sharepoint, NOT kiosks).  And btw, the other co-chairs of PGM committees might want to think through their practices too.  I am eagerly looking forward to suggestions from other AS Presidents (past and present) as well as the State AS expert on procedure.

Further references.  ASCCC 1991 Overview

By the way, it is firmly my belief that when the Board okayed the District’s Participatory Governance Handbook it established committees that have regular, on-going advisory roles, and by so establishing, subjected them to the Brown Act – but the PGH disagrees.

What a kiosk may look like – ours are nicer

 
 

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Budget Ruminations & Sadness

I thought about titling this post Budget Nightmare.  If Prop. 30 doesn’t pass in California (and we need Prop. 38 to fail as well), schools in California are going to enter a phase never before seen in California education. I would like to think voters can see that.  I hope they do.  Polls say that Prop. 30 is passing – by a lean margin, of about 55%.  It should be winning by way more than that.  How can people not see that?

I can’t take credit for calling the work we’re doing in the Planning and Budget Council at Oxnard College “The Doomsday Scenario,” that was Vice President Mike Bush’s phrase.  He’s been pretty good about putting things in both complex terms – and then, the harder thing, in simple terms that I can understand.

We have to cut $1.6 million dollars from an already “flat” (actually slightly smaller) budget for Fiscal Year 2013 if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass.  If Prop 30 does pass we still have cuts to make.  I hope everyone realizes that.

We have to make these cuts in a way that still serves as many students as possible, both for the obvious reason of serving as many students as possible with our small budget and because if we serve fewer students, our future revenues go down.  We go into the Death Spiral (Alan Hayashi coined that one).  We were rescued last year from the Death Spiral by an adjustment to this year’s allocation, but I doubt we’ll be rescued again as each of the three colleges in our district come to grips with the realities that have plagued Oxnard College for so long.

We have virtually no clerical staff.  One person, Darlene Inda, is now doing the work formerly assigned to what I estimate (conservatively) to be 1.8 people.  Work that isn’t done by the now laid-off employees is simply done by whoever remains, it’s hard to estimate how much that has increased the workloads of everyone from the President on down.  Our Executive Vice President does not have an administrative assistant of her own.  Student workers fill roles formerly held by longer term employees.  Committees are taking on the work formerly done by such people as a public relations employee.   Most faculty know they have to be virtually self-sufficient, and if they don’t know that, they are learning it this year.

Reading the resource requests that faculty wrote last year, I have to shake my head.  Virtually everyone wants something.  Many programs asked for more clerical help, more faculty – but our budget is shrinking while salaries go up by step and column (as they should).  Instead of creatively planning on how to get by with less – even if Prop 30 passes, it’s not a panacea, and furthermore, it’s temporary; some faculty chose extravagantly (and perhaps woefully) dramatic language to describe their needs.  I’m not quoting any particular programs (I’m compiling the collective wail of faculty):  “If we don’t get more help, we aren’t going to be able to meet our learning outcomes” or “If we don’t get clerical help, the faculty are not going to be able to oversee labs properly.”  YIKES.  If that’s really true and your program is already expensive (it still has clerical support, for example), then you’re making an entire committee of people ask the question:  Can we afford you?

If we can’t afford your program, we can’t afford it.  We can’t risk student safety or faculty safety in a program that puts people at risk due to faculty inattention.  That would be in violation of Ed Code.

Did that sound harsh?  Well, let’s go on to the harsh part and why I’m so sad this weekend and obsessing about the College.

Athletics.

I am not a sports fan and I’m not athletic.  I’ve never been athletic, although I did love to go to football games in high school and college, those years are far behind me.

But I am very much aware of how important physical education is to human beings, how so many people are in fact constructed in such a way that kinetic learning is central to the whole way they approach the world.

We are very unlikely to cut Physical Education, in my view.  Remember, this blog represents my opinions, but I do feel people are better off knowing my opinions if they’re going to trust me to represent them and to ask the right questions of the administration.

But we are almost certainly going to cut Athletics.

Athletics (intramural sports, where our baseball team, our soccer teams, our cross country teams compete against other colleges) is not mandated by Title V/Ed Code.  These programs fall into what is called the “co-curricular” area, like…the cafeteria.  Last year, the Board eliminated cafeterias at all three colleges.  Oxnard College now has a café only because we have Culinary program at OC.  If that café fails to be self-sustaining, it will like be no more.

We have a childcare center on campus too.  It’s not mandated by law to exist.  It’s essentially a “co-curricular” program.  It has been given two years to break even (and it doesn’t take money from the general fund right now due to monies set aside at a different level of our funding model) or it goes away.

We have a healthcare center.  It may be at risk.

OCTV was “co-curricular.”  There was no legal mandate for it.  It was ended last year, another great sadness.

But, as we look at eliminating academic programs that are too expensive, academic programs that have a higher-than-average cost per student educated, Athletics is not only on the table to be cut, but there’s virtually no way that a program that is both 1) more expensive than average – by quite a bit; and 2) not required by law…has a good chance of surviving.

This is what I mean when I say we’re heading into budgetary times never before seen in California.  There are many factors.  We have lots of youngsters and not a lot of oldsters (who would ostensibly be paying taxes).  We have Prop 13 from decades ago protecting the oldsters.  We are increasing in minimum wage and part time jobs rather than in well-paying jobs.  The bottom fell out of the real estate market.  Enron screwed us over (and that’s a huge factor, don’t forget it).

If we could sell tickets to games and break even, Athletics would likely stay.  That is not the case at Oxnard College.  Students, for whatever reason, do not spend lots of money buying tickets – they do not arrive in huge numbers at games.  Could we change that?  Could Athletics live within a new budget created by ticket sales?  These are questions for the future.  Is Athletics going to survive while we cut classes needed for certificates, degrees and transfer, when the State of California says we have to have certificates and degrees – but not Athletics?

I cannot precisely say why this makes me so sad, to the point of having a nightmare about it last night.  I think perhaps it is the extreme effort that athletes put into their sports, the dedication, devotion and courage I’ve seen from athletes over the 26 years I’ve worked for this district.  In the classroom, athletes have made a difference.  Yes, some of them are sometimes squirrelly, but my own classroom research shows that these young men and women find a reason to be in school – because of athletics – and that they are intelligent, cooperative young people who end up doing very well in class.  They are often class leaders.  In anthropology, because we study sport, they bring a dimension to the classroom that cannot be gained by merely taking a physical education class.

In the end, college is not about athletics.  The “big schools” will be able to afford it, there will be places for really talented athletes to continue to show their talents.  The suddenness with which baseball disappeared from Moorpark last year, and basketball from Oxnard, though, are troubling.  What does this teach young people about the ability of their elders to plan?  Is it really necessary to treat this as an all or nothing kind of game?  I understand we’re not required to fund Athletics, and I understand that we’re cutting virtually every single thing we’re not required to do.  When we go to look at what other wonderful things we’re going to have to cut, though, I want everyone to remember that Athletics has had to look this disaster squarely in the eye for a year or more.  Our young athletes have been exposed to lessons about the world that other students did not have to face.  Our talented Athletics staff, headed up by Athletics Director Jonas Crawford, has had to carry on with a heavy weight tied to a thin thread hanging over their heads.

I have contacted the Oxnard College Foundation regarding funding for Athletics.  It seems to be so harsh to go from a still-living program to no program in such a short time.  I haven’t heard back yet.  I have no idea how to fund raise.  Students want to help, there is support for Athletics; there is simply no budget.  Since this is happening in a woefully similar way nationwide, we are looking at how other campuses have dealt with this.  Student-run intramural (as opposed to intermural) athletics are fun, but they are not quite the same (especially for sports like football, basketball and baseball, but for all sports).  Do students want to pay more fees to keep Athletics?  No student of whom I’ve asked that question has given an immediate response.  They need to think about it.  Will the community step up and help?  Where are the corporate sponsors?  What about the incredibly wealthy sports teams and athletes – can they be approached for help?

Will Oxnard itself get behind its youth – because the remaining athletes at OC are indeed local youth – and support Athletics at Oxnard once they understand how dire the situation is?  How is that kind of community support generated?   People who do a lot of community organizing are already in over their heads trying to work on Prop 30 and on keeping regular academic programs, on getting kindergarten and elementary class sizes down.

The brain is a complex organ, and the motor cortex is right in the middle of it for a reason.  The earliest known universities had Athletics and considered taking competition to higher levels an essential component of education.  It’s true that we can compete in other areas, but competition in Athletics has a purity to it, and a deep connection to the human spirit that cannot be denied.

Going to the gym for personal fitness is great, but Athletics brings something else to the table.  I will argue that we not cut co-curriculars altogether at OC, but I am not optimistic that even a small sum will be set aside for them.  They are all in the same boat and must become self-supporting.  It’s not exactly the best time in the world to try and raise more money, either.

It’s just very hard to even contemplate ending any of these programs when they are healthy and vibrant, just because of lack of money.  Where, oh where, are the rich philanthropists when you need them?  Can’t just one person out there buy a smaller yacht and donate the money to OC Athletics?  I can’t help it, that’s where my imagination goes.