Our View: College expenses worth the scrutiny

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Editor's note: The editorial below has been changed to reflect that the $2.5 million in total salary figures for 19 Sierra College staff members includes administrative positions such as the president and vice president. If you’re a community college student these days, you might start to wonder — what are you getting for your money? State cuts — and more are threatened in the future — have caused class sizes to swell. Less faculty means fewer courses are offered and rising book and material fees are not helping students either. Locally, Sierra College leaders reported that the number of students seeking aid has increased by 100 percent. They also report that this is a time when they have to ask more from students, but in return offer them less. So while students are scrutinizing their own budgets, Sierra College’s came into question recently as well. The college is not completely to blame. The many levels of bureaucracy set up by the state have led to noticeable areas of waste, or where financial decisions do not make sense. Something needs to change to ensure that current and future students have access to an affordable higher education. An example of needed change be seen in a due process clause designating that public employees have a property right to their job. Loosely translated, this means the job is the employee’s property. What this comes down to is it makes it harder for public entities to release employees for whatever reason in a reasonable time and under reasonable circumstances. For instance, one former Sierra College employee exhausted her sick leave and had a less than satisfactory performance, yet she still received $5,000 upon leaving the college and is eligible for public retirement benefits. Board President Aaron Klein cited an employee’s property interest as one reason the board tends toward settling with employees rather than challenge their rights in court. The $5,000 payout last year was one of four that totaled nearly $500,000 doled out to employees leaving the college. The extreme was a former assistant superintendent and vice president of finance paid more than $300,000 in an agreement ending his employment. The payouts are an example of legislation that adds bureaucracy and unnecessary expense to our public system. It will take strong action and willpower on behalf of our legislators to fix that. In a follow-up, the Journal printed the salaries of Sierra’s top paid administrators. The total salary compensation came to about $2.5 million a year for 19 top administrator's pay, not including retirement and health benefits. The salaries range from about $114,000 a year to just over $200,000 for the college's president. It should be noted that Sierra College has one administration to run four campuses and a total of about 20,000 students. In comparison, the Los Rios Community College District, which has about 38,000 students at one campus alone, has four administrations for each of its four campuses in addition to a handsomely paid chancellor who rakes in almost $400,000 a year in compensation and bonuses. A community college education is something to be valued because it provides accessible higher education to all. In today’s economic and government climate, that mission seems harder and harder to achieve. Community college board members need to evaluate their management staff and make sure the students paying for and using their system are getting the best bang for their buck. Can they do without one or two administrators in exchange for providing two or more faculty members? Or is there another way to restructure jobs to provide more for the students? It’s a thought worth more than a passing consideration.