Community college district seeks parcel tax
Voters heading to the polls on June 5 will consider a second tax in addition to Alameda’s Measure C sales tax increase for equipment and facilities: Trustees for the Peralta Community College District have placed a parcel tax measure on the ballot.
The eight-year, $48 a year tax – dubbed Measure B – is slated to be spent on core academic programs in math, science and English; training students for successful careers; and preparing students at the College of Alameda, Merritt, Laney and Berkeley City College for transfer to four-year institutions.
Voters in Albany, Alameda, Berkeley, Emeryville, Piedmont and Oakland will be asked to consider the tax, which needs the assent of two-thirds of those who cast ballots to pass.
“With the massive state cuts community colleges across California have received – and Peralta has received its share – we need to go to the community to make up for those losses,” Peralta spokesman Jeff Heyman said.
Heyman said the cuts limit the number of students the college district can enroll and the number of classes it can offer to those already enrolled.
“This is devastating for students,” he said.
State funding for California’s 112 community colleges has dropped by $1.33 billion since 2006, according to a recent report from the Little Hoover Commission, a state watchdog group.
Peralta saw its budget cut by $10 million this year, which equals a reduction of the equivalent of about 1,500 full-time students and more than 500 course sections, according to the Community College League of California, a community college advocacy group. Its adopted budget for this school year was $115.7 million.
The actual number of students the schools educate is much higher than the full-time numbers suggest since most community college students don’t attend full time, Heyman said. College of Alameda’s student head count for the spring 2011 term, the most recent numbers available, was 13,180, while full-time equivalents were a little less than 2,100, data on the California Community Colleges’ chancellor’s website show.
Heyman said the district has had to turn away 3,000 to 4,000 students it was once funded to educate due to state budget cuts. Fees are set to increase to $46 per credit or $1,380 a year for a full-time student, up from $26 per credit in 2009-10, though the Little Hoover Commission noted that they are still lower than the fee paid by community college students in every state but one.
In 2009, Peralta enrolled the full-time equivalent of 3,150 more students than the state was paying the college district to educate, a district budget presentation shows, at a cost of nearly $14.4 million to the district. A year later, the accrediting agency that oversees community colleges placed the district’s four schools on probation, saying it had serious concerns about the district’s fiscal solvency and governance, and the Alameda County Grand Jury questioned the spending of some district administrators and trustees.
But under the leadership of interim chancellor Wise Allen, the district has virtually eliminated that gap, the presentation shows, reducing the number of full-time equivalent students it is educating to around 18,000. In 2011, its colleges have been taken off probation and placed on warning status, In its 2010-11 report, the county grand jury sounded the alarm about exotic financial instruments the district’s leaders chose to fund its retirement benefits, but said the district’s new leadership had made strides in righting itself financially.
“It appears to the Grand Jury that the financial management of the district is now in competent hands,” the grand jury’s 2010-11 report said.
The district’s leaders are poised to select a new chancellor to take the reins when Allen’s term ends in June, though Heyman said the board of trustees didn’t vote to appoint a new chancellor Tuesday.
The Little Hoover Commission’s community college report, issued in February, recommended the system streamline its offerings to focus on basic skills, career technical education and preparation for transfer to four-year colleges and universities – recommendations that were echoed in a report issued by the chancellor of the California Community College system, the largest college system in the nation. The Little Hoover report outlined additional reforms aimed at boosting graduation and transfer rates.
“We’ve read all those reports with interest and will be making appropriate changes,” Heyman said.
Pollsters told district trustees in January that a parcel tax measure for the district could pass, with 73 percent of those polled in December saying they could support such a tax. No arguments opposing the proposed tax have been filed.
The tax measure is one of five expected to be on the June and November ballots this year. The June ballot also includes Measure C, a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase that would pay for vehicles, equipment and facilities in Alameda, while the November ballot is expected to include an extension and doubling of the Measure B county transportation tax and could include two statewide measures aimed at boosting taxes, one for schools and another for schools and other services.