It’s no secret Bakersfield College President Sonya Christian’s job is on the line.
The Californian reported earlier this month that her boss, Kern Community College District Chancellor Sandra Serrano, wasn’t happy with her management style.
Essentially, Christian jumped the chain of command to make some hires and had to dip into BC’s very large reserve fund to cover those costs. Because of those actions, the district said, she put BC into deficit spending — a big no no.
Serrano even went so far as to recommend on Christian’s job performance evaluation that she should look for work in a one-college district. That way she would have the authority she seeks at KCCD, Serrano wrote.
As bad as that is, the rift between KCCD and BC appears to run even deeper.
Some have begun to question if BC would be better off on its own, out from under the KCCD umbrella, which includes Porterville College and Cerro Coso Community College.
Meanwhile, Christian’s contract is up in February 2016. Since her evaluation, there has been no further action or statements from the board, making it almost certain that BC could be looking for its 7th president in just 11 years.
But BC employees in the know say KCCD is wrong. That Christian’s actions didn’t harm BC’s fiscal house and were necessary because of the district’s own sluggish attitude toward hiring, which was potentially more harmful to the college.
To understand what’s really going on, critics say, follow the money.
READY, AIM, HIRE
First, the human resource hires. Christian hired two new HR workers this year, bumping the total up to five.
The district’s take on the hires was that they were unnecessary because KCCD already provides HR services.
But KCCD critics counter Christian had to beef up the campus department because the district’s HR had repeatedly dropped the ball on hiring in a timely manner.
The college ended up “in essence paying twice for a service KCCD is supposed to provide,” said an employee who has served on the school’s budget allocation committee. The employee asked not to be named for fear of job retaliation.
Those weren’t the only hiring issues to cause trouble.
For example, district critics say, the state offered BC $452,000 to hire counselors and educational advisors, something the campus sorely needed. BC ran the positions through KCCD’s HR department but nothing happened.
To college officials, KCCD took so long to approve the positions, it missed the deadline and squandered BC’s chance at that $452,000.
KCCD’s side is that the state took too long to explain the guidelines it needed to follow in order to get the money and that caused a delay for not only BC but other community colleges as well.
Either way, BC had to pay out of pocket for those counselors and advisors instead of using state money.
Another of Christian’s disputed actions was to tap BC reserves to hire adjunct faculty and offer additional classes last year.
Her expectation was that BC would be reimbursed by the state, according to the unnamed employee.
In an email to The Californian Aug. 14 the employee wrote:
“We fully expected that the earnings allocated from the state for those classes would be returned to BC's savings account, but KCCD did not allow that. As a result, the savings account was low, and we were labeled with the crime of deficit spending.”
BC’s reserves are actually a healthy 9 percent of the college’s expenses. And Tom Burke, KCCD’s chief financial officer, confirmed that college presidents are allowed to spend those reserves as they see fit. That’s not a district matter.
Even so, Christian’s performance evaluation written in June 2015 clearly reflects the district’s disapproval of her actions. In addition to the hiring issues, the district states that Christian reassigned staff without KCCD approval, failed to meet budget deadlines and didn’t work within district procedures.
“Regardless of Dr. Christian’s talents and accomplishments, her leadership style is not compatible with the procedures and thus operations of a multi-college district,” the evaluation says.
Both Christian and Serrano declined to comment.
THE FACULTY FIGHT
The unnamed employee said Christian has been fighting an uphill battle against years of mismanagement and has had to act because KCCD wouldn’t.
BC’s Academic Senate President Steven Holmes agreed, saying BC’s faculty also has been fighting over hiring delays at the district level for more than a year.
The Senate has put six resolutions before the KCCD board since April 2014 rallying behind Christian’s leadership and seeking to clean up district procedures.
The Senate would like a performance evaluation of the district’s HR department and an answer as to why it can take up to seven months to make a hire.
The Academic Senate also pushed to develop a system for evaluating KCCD operations that includes BC faculty input.
Holmes said the district was looking at spending $700,000 on HR positions in May 2014, when the faculty passed a resolution to fight the spending.
Faculty leaders have also sought, without success, to lower the amount of required reserves from the district’s minimum of 15 percent to the state’s minimum of 5 percent. That’s in addition to a KCCD savings requirement that each school have 3 percent of its expenses in cash on hand.
KCCD’s reserve funding was 38.7 percent of its expenses and more than twice the state average of 18 percent in 2014, according to the summary of general fund transactions. That’s down to about 23 percent now, Burke said.
TO SECEDE OR NOT?
The feud between the district and Christian brings up a bigger question of whether BC needs the district.
Holmes, for one, said the district isn’t earning its keep and BC’s getting shafted.
BC pays two-thirds of the cost of district services, which is fair as BC students make up about two-thirds of the district’s total student population.
But the district kicks back less than half its money to BC even though most of that funding comes from the BC’s growing enrollment, according to state and local data from this and last year’s budgets.
And KCCD’s operating budget has increased more than $750,000 each year since at least 2013-2014, according to budget documents.
KCCD officials budgeted $10.8 million for operations in 2015-2016. That’s $828,065 more than the 2014-2015 budget of $9.9 million.
That money doesn’t pay for instructors and classes.
It pays for business, legal, educational planning, research, HR and legal services; salaries and benefits for employees in the chancellor’s office and board members; and governmental and external affairs services.
Burke said that structure actually saves money for each college in the district (BC, Porterville and Cerro Coso) as it centralizes general operations.
“Providing a service once rather than three separate times for each college is an effective, cost-saving model used by multi-college community college districts throughout California,” he wrote in an email.
BC employees argue that since KCCD evaluates the cost effectiveness of its own services, it’s difficult to say that structure results in cost savings for the individual colleges.
Holmes said he hopes the uncertainty with Christian’s contract doesn’t stop the president from asking questions and leading in the way she has.
Christian will stay on as BC’s president through the fall semester. But who will lead BC come mid-2016 when her contract is up is an open question.