Say no to Measure L

October 31, 2014
Matt Kokkonen

Matt Kokkonen

OPINION By MATT KOKKONEN

Just about everyone in San Luis Obispo County likes Cuesta College and that is why the trustees ask for your vote to pass the $275 million bond Measure L.

This bond is in addition to all the other tax increases our county residents and property owners are asked to pass. There is also a $7.5 billion state “water” bond. Where does it stop? SLO City pension fund alone is underfunded by $155 million. SLO County’s pension fund is unfunded by $300 million. And they want us to borrow more? L –No!

The Trustees assert that the money is needed to pay essentially for facility repairs and upgrades. This clearly shows how inept and irresponsible they have been by permitting such deterioration. They set the budget annually and needed to fund the facility upkeep adequately. They failed to do that. Instead they used the monies for salaries and benefits to the tune of 80 percent of Cuesta’s budget. In summary, the real reason Cuesta College Trustees want the bond money is because they have failed to monitor and oversee the college facilities properly.

In fact, California Proposition 30, which passed in 2012, provided an extra $6,900,000 to Cuesta this year. The funds are being spent entirely on instructional salaries. Other benefits, such as pensions, will add to the cost. Why not use all or some of the Prop 30 monies for the repair of identified broken down facilities? Trustees specifically rejected using any of that $6,900,000 for other permissible areas, namely operating expenses or capital outlays. Trustees therefore again fall short of using good judgment.

Paradoxically, Cuesta has prided itself, appropriately so, as a school for vocational education and training. Yet the bond is to repair many facility deficiencies and hazards, specifically the kinds of skills it teaches. Why not utilize the students with the staff in the repairs and upgrades for their learning experience? Unfortunately, the college has also eliminated vocational projects, such as masonry, which was actually wholly financed by private industry.

If the bond passes and enslaves property owners to 34 years of additional property taxes, we will pay for inflated construction costs of 28 percent because Cuesta will require use of union labor. The trustees have not safeguarded the public‘s right for lowest costs by not maintaining the ability to engage non-union construction companies and contracts.

Prop 30 requires trustees to identify how the tax allocation was going to be spent. For 2013, it amounted to $6,900,000. The other years’ allocations have not yet been specified but the trustees passed three resolutions identifying how the monies for each of the three years would be spent. True to form, each year’s allocation was directed entirely towards instructional salaries. The trustees specifically elected not to allot any monies for operating expenses or for capital outlay, the other two options on the form. And, pension costs are added to the salary expenses.

However, only Resolution 09-15 for the 2014 allocation records each trustee’s votes and proves the unanimous vote. Resolutions 07-13 and 08-14 are defective by not identifying the trustees’ votes, thereby not proving the majority vote. Yet the resolutions were signed by the president of the trustee board. Therefore the expenditures for the $6,900,000 are improper and probably illegal by not proving the claimed majority votes.

Proposition L claims to include stringent fiscal accountability by requiring citizens’ oversight of all funds. Actually, this is why the trustees were voted in to begin with and what they have failed to do as proven by this vast tax measure they hope to be rewarded with. It has been the trustees job to oversee the plant. They have failed to do so.

Another red herring in the measure is the prohibition against using the monies for administrators’ salaries and pensions. This sounds good. But, this same prohibition was included in the State proposition 30. That did not prevent the trustees from allocating all of it to other staff salaries. In addition, even that administrative salary prohibition is ludicrous since the group of administrators, managers, supervisors and confidentials as a whole amounts to only 4.8 percent of Cuesta’s faculty and staff of 746. Administrators by themselves amount to less than 1 percent of the staff. Big deal.

Cuesta has already borrowed money without a vote of the public. How transparent is that? While it is understandable that a tax funded entity like Cuesta always wants to increase its income, the timing of this measure is wrong, the amount is excessive and the rationale is misplaced. Taxpayers are not against taxes per se, but they want good value for their money. They also expect their representatives to manage the public’s assets with good judgment and tight fiscal controls. In these, the trustees Patrick Mullen, President Angela Mitchell, Barbara George, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander have failed. Their mismanagement and lack of supervision have jeopardized the viability of Cuesta College.

Why should only SLO residents go in debt to pay for the education of the students, vast majority of whom come from outside our county? And what about the illegal aliens who pay only the very low resident tuition which is highly subsidized and mostly funded by SLO residents? How fair is that, while legal students from other states would pay much higher tuition?

During a recent show, Dave Congalton questioned my assertion that most of the students at Cuesta came from outside of the county. He called his wife Charlotte Alexander who is a Trustee running for re-election currently. She stated that 60 percent came from San Luis Obispo county. When challenged by me, his spirited response was only suitable for a “good radio” show but was not factual. However, Cuesta’s published data states that much less than 50% of students come from our county. SLO County property owners do not want additional 30+ year taxes.

Other persuasive and detailed arguments against Measure L have been written by SLO City Council member Dan Carpenter and others.

Since the current trustees have failed to provide proper budgetary discipline to manage the existing facilities, their mismanagement should not be covered up and bailed out with this unaffordable $275,000,000 extra debt and increase in everyone’s property taxes. Cuesta needs to trim enough to live within its means just as everyone else has to do. They must prioritize the spending instead of automatically funding more and more staff and salaries. Only that way will Cuesta remain a viable community college with continued and willing county tax payer support.

And the current Trustees whose terms are up now need to be voted out and replaced. They are Patrick Mullen, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander.

Measure L? L – No!

Matt Kokkonen is a financial advisor and former Congressional candidate who lives in san Luis Obispo.


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SamLouis

Cuesta sprang from humble beginnings and it does provide a critical service but two things give me pause:


1.) When the current Cuesta/SLO campus was built, Cuesta became addicted to $$$ largely due to revenue from Diablo Canyon generated taxes. It overbuilt and bought the very best of everything. Sadly, it has not been a good steward of the taxpayer’s investment. I think if one were really to drill-down on Cuesta’s finances and operations, one would find excess classroom and lab space, bloated staff and faculty, bloated compensation levels, poor physical plant management, etc.


2.) The other issue is that of students from outside the county using Cuesta as a “feeder” to Cal Poly, or another college elsewhere. While not unique, this problem does not effect most community colleges in CA, yet I have seen no evidence that Cuesta is seeking a solution from the state. SLO County has state representatives. Why isn’t Cuesta working with them in order to find a way to equitably charge nominal fees to new graduates of high schools outside of SLO County, just as they currently do if they are from out of state?


Ramorrobay

Good story Matt. I appreciate you putting it out there. I posted it to my FB timeline and know I will make some of my friends disappointed. BUT I feel very strongly about this. I voted against the measure in 2012 I think it was when they tried to ask for 300 million, and I’m voting against it this time too. They have been bad stewards of their money, and need to live within their means just like everyone else.


Dave

So far, Matt Kokkonen is 0 for 4 in running for elective office. Here’s hoping his election day record shoots to 0 for 5. There’s too much at stake here folks. We could spend a couple hours and go through each of the points raised by Matt and refute them and disprove them, but that would be 2-3 hours of my life that I’d never get back. So don’t believe Matt and don’t believe me. Go do your own research about Cuesta and see what you think.


But a couple points worth noting:


(1) Three of the Trustees (Alexander, George, and Hitchman) have only been on board since 2010. George and Hitchman have been on less than two years. To blame them for any of Cuesta’s woes is just plain silly.


(2) Under Dr. Stork, Cuesta has turned itself around after years of poor leadership. The accreditation mess has been resolved. The North County campus has proven to be a rousing success. Cuesta can continue to move forward or it can stagnate. Gil Stork has been in this community since 1948, he’s been with Cuesta for 50 years. If he says Cuesta needs the bond, I believe him. What are you? Whom do you believe is telling the truth–Gil Stork or Matt Kokkonen? Go ahead and do the research.


(3) What Matt doesn’t tell you is that a bond is the only way for Cuesta to get money. Vote it down in 2014, it will come back in 2016, or 2018. But each time, the need goes up. Sooner or later, you have two choices. Either pass a bond or start closing down the campus, cut class offerings, lay off faculty.


(4) Matt wants to quibble about how many Cuesta students actually are county residents. Is it 40, 50, or 60%????? Here’s my question, Matt: Who gives a damn? Whether that student was both in Atascadero or Altadena, they come here to school, support local businesses, and many of them end up staying here like Jim Brabeck and become important and vital members of our community. You’re supposedly a friend of business, Matt. Why don’t you go ask your buddies who are small business owners if they want fewer Cuesta students around?


One last point. I’m thankful to Cuesta for all they’ve done to train the EMT folks and the paramedics in this county. So the next time you need emergency assistance, just give Matt Kokkonen a call.


But, seriously, go on the Internet and do some research. You’ll see that our friend Matt is up to his usual tricks again.


And, yes, I’m married to a Cuesta trustee, one who told me this morning that she’s never, ever seen Matt attend a Cuesta College Trustee meeting.


kayaknut

One point makes it clear to not for vote this bond, “80% of budget spent on salaries, benefits and pensions”, this is wrong and until they fix this problem, without just always asking for more money, my vote will always be “NO”. I noticed you made not comment on this issue or tried to defend it.


Dave

Absolutely. Positively. Not true. As I said, do your research. Matt is once again twisting the facts.


info

Just like your friend Lois?


kayaknut

And you say the real percentage is ????, anything more than 40% is still a problem, and be sure to add true costs of all salaries, benefits and pensions. Do not use the same Measure Y scale the city of SLO used.


OnTheOtherHand

Why is anything more than 40% a problem? They are educating people not building/selling widgets. I ran a service-based business for many years and, even though I had big costs related to transportation, they were only half the cost of personnel. I would imagine that Cuesta’s facilities budget, while large, would play an equally second-place role to their personnel costs.


Are their personnel costs too big? I don’t know but I do know that I wouldn’t trust Matt Kokkonen for an accurate answer to that.


taxpayer

Dave, although I will be supporting Measure L, the one thing he got correct is that 80% of the annual budget is going towards salaries, benefits and pensions. That is not out of line with other institutions. It’s a people intensive industry and can’t be done without instructors, administrators and staff. The Cuesta budget is available at their website online. I hope everyone will support this measure.


I hope everyone also realizes that local high school students get their first year’s tuition free thanks to a generous donation earlier in the year.

Cuesta is a great institution and deserves our support.


SamLouis

What do you mean “turned itself around?” You’re suggesting Cuesta has “turned itself around” because it was narrowly able to retain its accreditation? Hardly. While I appreciate Stork’s hard work and long tenure at both Cuesta and in SLO, neither are enough to make me believe that this bond is a good idea.


I would need to see a detailed operating and financial plan for Cuesta. Just how did Cuesta get in this (supposed?) mess of deferred facility maintenance? No matter how you slice it that was a product of horrid decision-making. Yet now you want to flood the same people with $$$? No way. Speaking of facilities, what are the use rates of their existing structures? I suspect they are abysmally low, further driving up costs.


What are the compensation rates for Cuesta faculty and staff — both current and retired? I suspect if that were detailed it would raise quite a few eyebrows.


Matt K

Dave, I do appreciate your willingness to air differing opinions on your radio program and defend you for that even with people who consider you an extremist liberal.


Fortunately, your opening statement in the above discourse unmasked your true world view. Right off the bat your argument was based on an attack against me – the classic attack the messenger “argument ad hominem” – in the absence of substantive facts supporting your position.


As an immigrant from Finland I very much appreciate the United States of America. Isn’t it a great political system that permits people to run for office without worrying about being killed for differing opinions? Parenthetically, that liberty may not last very long.


Are you not glad that William Wilberforce in England fought for decades against slavery and the Republicans, starting in Ripon, Wisconsin with Lincoln introduced the anti-slavery political movement and kept up the fight for it through many battles – many more than 5. In the end they won, thank God. Are you not glad that the Republicans also introduced and kept fighting for women’s right to vote for a long time in the face of Democrat opposition in Congress? Had Washington quit the fight for independence and freedom against the British and Hessian fighters from Germany after losing 5 battles, we would not have America. How about Thomas Edison who tried over 2,000 different experiments before the light bulb worked? And Abraham Lincoln lost 5 times before winning. Dave, I’m not there – yet.


Consequently, for those who have a long term perspective and who understand the basis of our nation’s founding as stated in the Declaration of Independence to spring from natural law, losing an election does not result in a defeatist attitude. I understand that my human freedom, my personal being, my individual liberty and human rights are endowed to me by my creator and therefore cannot be taken away by any government or by its agents, elections or dictators. That is the fundamental reason why not to be depressed. Thank God for America. No other country in the world has stood on as firm a foundation for freedom and individual liberty. That we must keep on fighting for. You, Dave, as an atheist, are welcome to keep attacking against such a creator all you want.


Here are my responses regarding your other assertions:


1. The three trustees are responsible for the votes they have made so far. Each of them could have voted to allocate the monies towards repairs. Specifically, for example, when given the opportunity to vote for spending the first batch of prop 30 money, $6,950,000, for repairs, they voted to spend it on instructional salaries. They also voted to spend the next two years’ disbursements on salaries, not on plant upkeep.


2. Dr. Stork is a recognized and respected community leader. Thank you, Gil, for your service. His mission is to keep Cuesta College going. I am glad we have the college, but do not want to keep feeding the bottomless pit and additional taxes. Gil wants a bond as do undoubtedly most of the college staff and faculty. Unfortunately, the trustees have neglected the facilities and are not to be trusted with more money that taxpayers have to pay back


Stop to think about this enormous 34 year future tax obligation of $275,000,000. Good trustees will prioritize the spending and make cuts where needed. The current trustees have proven that they are incapable of that. Vote them out. In district 4, vote for Peter Sysak.


3. This $275,000,000 bond is outrageous for one school. First prove to us that you can be trusted and that you are capable of good stewardship of people’s money. The current trustees are not.


4. Dave, you claim that I quibble about the % of students who are local. Stop it. You know better. You are the one who made a big deal of it, called your wife Charlotte Alexander during the radio show and relayed her answer that over 60% of the students at Cuesta originally came from San Luis Obispo County. That act itself violated your own promise that you were not going to comment on this tax measure because you are married to a trustee.


When I challenged her % number, you slammed your arm on the control keyboard and started on a rampage. I know it makes for “good radio” and I can take it. But that issue was your making, not mine. Dave, you must learn to control yourself and not be so defensive.


And yes, I have asked my business friends about the $275,000,000 bond. They are against the additional taxes and look for leaders and trustees who understand budgeting and can make tough decisions regarding prioritizing public projects. The current crop of trustees is not to e trusted.


The fact is that Cuesta publishes that a lot less than 50% of students come from Cuesta’s service area, which itself comprises an area of over 438,000 people, while San Luis Obispo county has about only about 280,000 people. How many of our county’s high school graduates actually make up the 3,456 “full time equivalent students” this fall? Not a large %.


In your last point you are pleased for the EMTs that are trained at Cuesta and suggest that if people need emergency services, they should call me. For your information, the department graduated 11 students this year. I have one better than your suggestion to call me: Go see my daughter who is an emergency medicine physician at French and AG hospitals. She returned after serving as an Air Force emergency medicine doctor for 10 years also abroad, including Afghanistan.


I have one more clarification for Dave regarding the % of budget devoted to salaries and benefits. The 80% is published by Cuesta, not me.


I am disappointed that you have not wanted to do the research yourself but advise people to vote for the extra tax specifically because I am against it. Unfortunately, your wife’s statistics are wrong, even though she is a trustee and should know better. The issue of where students are from seems to be a critical issue because even the chairman of the trustee board piped in on it with an outrageous claim. Desperate twisting of facts is unbecoming a trustee.


There are too many taxes. We are being taxed to death. And those entrusted to manage public funds are not qualified to manage them.


I urge all district 4 voters to vote for Peter Sysak for Cuesta College Trustee instead of for Charlotte Alexander. Peter Sysak is a retired college administrator who understands budgeting and is willing to make independent decisions.


taxpayer

Matt…sorry, you’re wrong! 58% of incoming freshmen, currently this fall, between 17 and19 years of age who are attending Cuesta College are from local high schools. This information is easily available at the Cuesta College Institutional Research website.


Mitch C

Since there are many Cuesta students that come from out of SLO County, why are the property owners in SLO County ask to foot the bill. Property owners in every county, except SLO, can send their children to Cuesta, and enjoy the benefits payed for by Slo property owners. Vote no on L.


hijinks

It’s time to end the fiction of the “community college.” These are state institutions in every way except funding. The state should take over funding, maintenance, capital improvements, instruction. Any kid from anyplace in CA can attend Cuesta. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of SLO taxpayers to create an educational opportunity for rich kids from Orange County and San Mateo who couldn’t get into Poly, but come to Cuesta believing a couple of years there means an automatic transfer to Poly.


Cuesta used to be a community college; that ended many decades ago, and it’s time to drop the pretense otherwise.


SamLouis

Something has to be done in this area. Either the state needs to take them over, or the state needs to allow individual community colleges the ability to charge a per unit fee to those coming from outside of the county.


waterworks

What make this argument difficult is that the majority of California is supporting their community colleges locally. 91% of the Community College Districts have received local support in the way of bonds exactly like Measure L (Easily verifiable takes a few minutes to google through the districts if you really bored but it is true…). Many have passed two and some like San Mateo three bonds.The State has no reason to change the process. This is even more evident by the Governor striking down a nearly unanimous Statewide GEO bond put forward by Buchannan in the last few months. The Governor believes that the State as a whole should not support CCC’s that the local cities that benefit from their operation need to keep them supported. I believe it is estimated that Cuesta generates something like $300M a year to slo county overall. With this local support statewide, you will not see the State making any moves on this handling the CCC system themselves. Community Colleges have never been more locally funded than before prop 13.


To make matters worse, with the majority of the state CC’s passing local bonds the State had no problem suspending Deferred Maintenance funding to Community College for over 6 years (2006-2012 info avail on the CCC Chancellors website). When they did establish it is was fractional.


Cuesta has held out longer than the 65 out of 72 CCC’s that have already passed local bonds for the exact same reason. Those that don’t know the system place the blame on Cuesta but if you research, this is not the case. Not justifying California’s funding processes, just stating easily provable fact.


SamLouis

Absolutely not. While I have not looked at a map of CA community colleges, I suspect the great “majority” do not attract new high school graduates from outside the county to: 1.) Hopefully gain admittance into a highly impacted school like Cal Poly and/or 2.) allow one to live in a fairly safe and naturally beautiful environment.


In other words there’s not a huge number of new high school graduates from SLO County flocking to enroll at Hartnell College in Salinas or Pierce College in Woodland Hills. What truly would be interesting would be to compare the finances of schools like SB City College or SD City College to Cuesta.


Your “argument” that Cuesta is doing things right because it had not passed a bond is absurd. I think if Cuesta had the trust of county voters, if Cuesta worked with the state to deal with Cuesta being used as a feeder and if the bond amount was something more realistic, it would have passed a bond years ago.


OnTheOtherHand

Now this is a point worthy of serious consideration.


aft50s

I have a fundamental problem with Measure L. As pointed out above, they are asking for money to perform work that is part of routine maintenance and upkeep.


This would be like a homeowner who pisses his money away and then applies for a 2nd trust deed to pay for the repairs needed because the homeowner has a garage full of toys. The issue I have with this scenario is the homeowner is counting on his neighbors to make the payment on the 2nd.


This is much the same as the Lucia Mar USD which attempted to pass a bond years ago for much the same reasons. A walk through the local elementary school near my home revealed peeling paint, dry rot, and rusty pipes/metal railings etc.


When I asked about this during the “public awareness meeting” held in Room 100 at the High School, the answer I received was they didn’t have enough employees to address everything…


In my opinion, if you can’t maintain what you have, you can’t have more to maintain.


OnTheOtherHand

Your last statement would be valid if it weren’t for the fact that this bond is intended to help take care of that overdue maintenance as well as build new facilities.


What a lot of critics here are ignoring is a possible reason for all the deferred maintenance and subsequent deterioration. Is it just possible that due to state budget cutbacks over the past decade, they didn’t have the support staff or materials budgets to do the required maintenance and had to make choices like “cutting non-urgent maintenance vs. cutting out classes?” I don’t know that they made good decisions but I am not assuming they didn’t given the circumstances.


Also, there seem to be a lot of critics who, because of past waste and abuse on the part of some state agencies and employees, assume that the situation hasn’t changed and that some of these problems aren’t being addressed. I can’t speak for the situation with the teaching staff at Cuesta, but I have been told that they have cut back on maintenance staff and that there is less wasted time by those who remain.


I am still up in the air about voting for or against “L.” Unlike Matt K, I happen to think that good education is important to the survival of a civil society and that privatized education doesn’t do an adequate job of meeting that need. On the other hand, I don’t like to see tax dollars wasted and would like to be sure that it isn’t if Measure L passes.


I see on the ballot information that funds would go into a separate account and that their would be oversight by an “Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee.” If I was convinced that such a committee was both truly “Independent” and had some real authority, I think that I could support it. However, given the experience of seeing various other local government committees acting as pawns for the politicians that appoint them or have insignificant powers (“Grand Jury”) to affect change, I am hesitant to accept that claim at face value.


cowabunga

DUDE, do the math 80 percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits and you want

to vote in favor of this bond only because its not supported by a tea partier, this is the

problem people stop voting party lines and vote what’s best for the citizens.


waterworks

Respectfully, how is this incorrect??? By State Law a minimum of 50% of all funding must be spent in the classroom instruction. This does not count for any other staffing, supplies such as support staff and supplies and utilities. You also use this point as a means of saying Cuesta is doing something incorrect with this average, what is you baseline to compare it too? Name two Community Colleges with a lower average!! Cuesta is one of the lowest paid Districts of it composition in the State. Not a great statistic.


SamLouis

In an editorial it was pointed out that tenured professors at Cal Poly with doctorates were paid less on average than tenured instructors at Cuesta — many of whom do not hold doctorates. Is that true?


falconbh

” Can You Really Afford To Pay For “All” These New Tax Increases for Years and Years ”


It is just Not just this New Tax Increase, It is All These New Tax Increase that are creating One Big Tax Burden on Citizen Taxpayers !


Big Construction Companies Funding Public Relations Campaigns, Taxpayers Valuable Funds used for Outside Consultants to Manipulate Voters, Cuesta Tax Exempt Foundation Using “Donations” for New Tax Increase .


We need a ” Time Out ” from all these New Tax Increases on the Ballot !


Time to balance the budget with existing “growing” current tax revenues , improve maintenance funding, eliminate waste , streamline current staffing levels, embrace and expand ” online cost effective education for the new future”, then pensions, salaries, and benefits need to be brought under control.


We Need Taxpayer Relief


winedude

The very fact that Matt Kokkonen opposes this bond measure tells me that I’d best vote FOR it. If the do-nothing Teabaggers oppose something, it’s a good bet that they are being nothing more than Luddite obstructionists…


hijinks

The wine has got to the dude’s logic. Or do you decide everything by who you don’t like taking a position?


OnTheOtherHand

I agree that it is wrong to oppose something SOLELY based upon your opinion of someone who supports it (or vice versa). But if you have no reason to trust that person’s judgment based on past experience (and I agree with winedude about Kokkonen here), you should doublecheck anything he claims before believing it or his arguments derived from those claims.


Ramorrobay

Apparently you are not a property owner or you have gobs of money to spend because this is going to add more money to our property taxes. I’m not a “Teabagger” I’m a person who is tired of being taxed for every little thing. I’m voting no too.