Cuesta handcuffed by big contract buyouts
February 26, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN AND KAREN VELIE
Cuesta College’s current accreditation woes are exacerbated by several six-figure settlements being paid to former administrators, and morale among faculty and other employees is said to be dangerously deteriorating.
Threats to the community college’s accreditation – its badge of academic competence – were detailed last week by UncoveredSLO.com.
Two top administrators, Daniel Chacon and Harry F. Schade, were forced from their posts last August and both became beneficiaries of generous buyouts approved by the college’s board of trustees in an apparent attempt to avoid litigation.
Chacon was Vice President for Student Support; Schade was Vice President for Student Learning. Because their positions are not considered vacant while the erstwhile administrators receive full salary payments, the jobs cannot be filled.
Among problems cited by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) were top staff shortages: “Out of ten senior administrative positions, six were interim, one was vacant, and the interim president [is] also serving as interim vice president for student learning,” according to a letter from the commission issuing a warning to Cuesta College to heed its recommendations or risk losing accreditation.
This hiring deficiency further complicates the college’s efforts to bring itself into accreditation shape.
The Chacon and Schade agreements, coupled with another for former President Marie E. Rosenwasser, will cost the college close to a half million dollars over the next two years, according to Cuesta College Federation of Teachers (CCFT) President Marilyn Rossa. Each administrator was paid approximately $139,000 annually; Schade’s agreement additionally calls for a $7,300 raise during his paid administrative leave. Both men will receive full health and other benefits for 12-18 months. Rosenwasser’s agreement is worth about $250,000, said Rossa.
The agreements call upon both parties to refrain for future legal action. Both administrators will be described only as having been employed by the college when inquiries from subsequent employers are received.
Faculty Monday received an “open resolution” from their union, the CCFT, noting the organization’s “alarm about the serious harm resulting from the [college’s] substantial pattern of recent fiscal mismanagement.”
The CCFT said its members “are deeply concerned about the way these detrimental management practices are burdening the college with unnecessary legal problems; wasting our personnel resources; harming the productivity of the college; increasingly interfering with the education of our students; and compromising Cuesta College’s financial health.”
Couching support for the board of trustees, Interim President Edralin Maduli, and the decision to terminate Chacon and Schrade, CCFT’s Rossa said, “We love Cuesta and we want to take it back. It’s been a long haul, and the missing vice presidents are one of the reasons that Cuesta has been derailed. [But] management-wise, Cuesta is a train wreck.”
The union resolution said Maduli’s management practices are replete with “irregularities” which threaten “Cuesta’s ability to operate as a legitimate and independent institution of higher education.”
College administrators did not respond to requests for comment prior to this posting.
Janet Florez, chair for the Committee on Political Education, said Chacon made an effort to reach out to the college’s Latino community, which she claimed was “pretty outraged” by his departure. “Before Dan, no one made the effort. The board [told the union] it didn’t have to reveal why [Chacon] was let go,” she added.
Chacon confirmed that, saying he was informed that the board “didn’t have to give me a reason.” He said he is “satisfied” with his contract buyout, but disappointed that he won’t be able to continue his Latino community outreach.
“I’m having a difficult time finding a job because of the way I was released,” he told UncoveredSLO.com, noting he “can’t say why on an application that I was let go.”
Schade could not be reached for comment.
The faculty union said it has “identified numerous occasions” of “blatant violations of labor law… and other professional agreements,” all of which have led to filing of formal grievances; and management abuses.” Union officials said they anticipate significantly increased legal costs for the college, estimated currently to be more than $100,000.
Most of these issues appear to be impacting the accreditation process. The accreditation commission asked Cuesta College to “correct the deficiencies noted” and to follow up with a progress report by March 15, 2008.
Accreditation is a process for evaluating and maintaining quality assurance for education. Widely used by the American higher education community, accreditation is academically important: Once revoked, course credits will no longer be transferable to other colleges and universities, and students will be unable to collect financial aid.