A draft set of board policies that would determine how the Kern Community College District operates drew ire from faculty members and college leaders Tuesday after many said it would sap power from individual colleges in favor of centralizing authority to the district office.
During a two hour study session Tuesday that at times turned heated, Bakersfield College officials spoke out against the 251-page draft board policy manual, which has been labored over for two years by a committee, district leaders and an outside consultant, which the district paid roughly $30,000.
Critics said that the document, which was riddled with redundancy and grammatical errors, would eliminate more than 160 negotiated faculty rights codified in current board policy, put the district at risk of getting written up for recommendations during the accreditation process next year and that many revisions college faculty members and administrators suggested during the shared governance process were not included in the draft policy manual.
None spoke out publicly in favor of the policy manual Tuesday.
“California taxpayers should be irate,” Bakersfield College Academic Senate President Steven Holmes told trustees. “This is the best that $2-plus million dollars of publicly-funded salaries and district consultation with counsel and a consultant can produce at 14 meetings over a two-year period of time?”
By the end of the meeting, KCCD Board President Kay Meek was urging calm among those involved.
“You’ve spent years on this, and here we are today and not in agreement — not even close to an agreement. I’m beginning to see there’s some anger coming into this,” Meek said. “Calm down. Take a step back a bit. This is a district. We have three colleges. Three academic senates. Let’s just bring everybody together and see what we can do.”
Among the biggest changes to the policy manual is the elimination of a section that defined a college president's responsibilities. Critics suggest it’s a deliberate attempt to give the district office more power over how Cerro Coso, Porterville and Bakersfield colleges are run, and that it further strains the already eroded trust between individual colleges and the district office.
A KCCD climate survey conducted in 2016 shows that trust between colleges and the district office hovers around 40 percent.
KCCD Chancellor Thomas Burke — whose office would gain broad authority over the three-college district if policies are approved as they were presented this week — admitted there was some animosity between college leaders and the district office, but chalked it up to college officials misunderstanding the document.
“They’re not recognizing the difference between policies and procedures,” Burke said. “Procedures don’t come to the board. The board policies address the chancellor, and the procedure addresses the president’s roles and responsibilities.”
But those who spoke out Tuesday were wary of a board policy manual that would grant more authority to the chancellor’s office. The decision-making process could get bogged down with layers of bureaucracy, some said.
Elizabeth Rozell, BC’s dean of instruction, called it “centralization of an already overburdened district office.”
“Keeping the decision authority closest to the institution allows for timely decisions to be made and efficient local processes to be implemented,” Rozell said. “Existing policy has served us well during the last accreditation cycle. I don’t see the need for these changes.”
Nick Strobel, a faculty lead of accreditation standards at Bakersfield College, wrote in a letter to the board that such policies duplicate efforts at the district and college levels.
“One wonders about the valuable wasted time by highly-paid and highly-qualified deans, vice-presidents, presidents, vice-chancellors and the Chancellor to review and approve every minute detail of what happens at the colleges,” Strobel wrote.
Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian wouldn’t take a stance on the policy, but said that she’s always been a proponent of efficiency in governance and that the more the colleges “continue to focus decision-making and resources closest to students and student learning, the better off we can accomplish our mission.”
“Existing board policies have served us well. It’s evolved over the years and with faculty before my time. It is very much represents the Kern Community College District. and I respect that historic work with thoughtful consideration over the years,” Christian said. “We need to take its review and revisions seriously so that the board policies represent the values of the communities we serve.”
Although district officials launched the extensive rewriting of the manual in 2015, such action is not required by law, according to Jay Rosenlieb, an attorney from Klein Denatale Goldner.
“While there may be specific exceptions, as a general matter there is no legal imperative for the KCCD Board of Trustees to engage in an overhaul of existing KCCD Board Policies,” Rosenlieb wrote in a Nov. 28 letter to Trustee Bill Thomas, who chairs the accreditation subcommittee. Rosenlieb recommended that draft policies be reviewed for legal compliance before being revised.
The new overhauled board policies come largely from recommendations made by the Community College League of California, a nonprofit corporation that advocates on behalf of college chancellors and elected trustees at the state legislative level.
CCLC routinely develops policy guidelines to keep in compliance with state education code for its 72 district members, of which KCCD counts itself, however the guidelines are one-size-fits-all templates that districts ought to modify for their needs, opponents of the policies say.
“I said it several times, but it apparently needs repeating: when a statewide organization representing every community college in the state … sets out a policy model to be followed, it has to be one-size-fits-all. It cannot fit unique circumstances, and I’ve said it over and over — Kern Community College District is unique,” Thomas said.
It’s unique in that 71 percent of its student population is enrolled at Bakersfield College, more than any other multi-college district statewide, and that the district holds more reserves than any other district in California, largely because it padded its reserve with money earned from increased attendance at BC, Thomas said.
“The document brought for is, for lack of a better term, garbage,” Holmes said ahead of the meeting. “It’s factually and legally flawed, and there's redundant contradiction. The document itself is just an embarrassment to an educational institution.”
For example, Holmes pointed to a portion of Board Policy 2210, concerning board officers.
“The terms of officers shall be for one year,” the document reads on one line, then on the next: “Said officers shall hold office for two years.”
Trustee Mark Storch questioned how the policy manual could have gotten onto the board agenda with such errors included.
“That needs to be addressed to the district office,” Holmes said, pointing at Burke. Holmes said he and other committee members alerted district officials of the errors during the shared governance process. Other college leaders, including the student government president, also said that their recommended changes weren’t included in the draft manual presented Tuesday.
Storch accused Holmes of lying to the board.
“I’ll tell you, I’m having a hard time believing all this that we got to this point and all this wasn’t considered,” Storch said, suggesting that Holmes’ suggestions weren’t included not because he didn’t bring them to the district, but because they were rejected.
“I’m not here to tell you I didn’t get my way,” Holmes said. “The district office did not follow through.”
Burke said after the meeting that he was wondering if some changes weren’t included because of the length of time the document was worked on. Some things could have been missed, he said.
“That’s why I want to sit down with the academic senate presidents and go through this,” Burke said. “I’m as surprised as anybody some of these concerns were expressed.”