Southwestern College may trim faculty to reduce costs

Teachers’ group resolves to fight

Southwestern College superintendent Melinda Nish
  • Southwestern College superintendent Melinda Nish

The threat of pink slips has reared its head at Southwestern Community College District for the first time since l987.

Only a few months ago, when voters passed Proposition 30, a tax to fund K-12 schools, community colleges, and state universities, governor Jerry Brown told the San Jose Mercury News, “Here we have a vote of the people, I think the only state in the country that says, 'Let’s raise our taxes, for our kids, for our schools, and for our California dream.'”

Last week, however, the Southwestern governing board met and discussed “worst-case scenarios” for negotiations with teachers. The worst-case scenario includes issuing pink slips on March 15.

Prior to the board meeting, superintendent Melinda Nish sent out a letter that advised faculty: “An information discussion of workforce reduction does not mean we stop negotiations or the meet-and-confer process.”

The faculty response was quick.

On February 14, the Southwestern College Education Association Representative Council passed this resolution unanimously: “Resolved: The [association] directs its negotiations team to not agree to any salary cuts, no layoffs, and, furthermore, that the administration should take a 5% cut.”

In a February 20 interview, the president of Southwestern’s board, Humberto Peraza, said, “Both sides have been working diligently to find common ground. I am confident that when both sides come back to the negotiating table, there will be a solution that meets the college’s financial and academic goals.”

A Southwestern faculty member commented on February 20 that the budget gap could easily be closed through pending retirements. (Attrition is part of the solution that the San Diego Unified School District has employed to close budget gaps.)

Jim Mahler, president of the AFT Guild 1931 (the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers), which includes San Diego Community College and Grossmont-Cuyamaca, said his district is not experiencing the same fiscal problems because it is “better managed and isn’t overreacting.” Mahler also said, “The Southwestern employees shouldn’t agree to these drastic measures, because they are unwarranted.”

Last year, all Southwestern employees accepted a 5 percent pay cut. According to Mahler, no other community colleges in San Diego experienced such a cut.

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By saying, “An information discussion of workforce reduction does not mean we stop negotiations or the meet-and-confer process”, superintendent Nish may as well be holding a baseball bat while saying "let's talk". This threat must be gut wrenching for college employees who must be feeling as duped as the voters who supported Prop 30. What's surprising is many felt that the college was on a different path since the ouster of Chopra's regime, and that these tactics were a thing of the past.

JD, The college may be on a different path but that path is lined with the same antagonistic leadership that, with the brief respite of concerned leadership evidenced by Denise Whittaker, has alienated faculty, staff and students from administration for a decade. Just as a sidebar: unfortunately San Diego County voters did not support Prop 30. California, overall, supported the Prop but not this county.

Eric Maag, the president of the SCEA, contributed this comment after the story had been filed.

"The Southwestern College Education Association Rep Council passed the February 14 resolution prompted by frustration over years of class cutbacks and salary reduction." Maag also said the district has failed to provide the negotiating team with complete and accurate information.

DUPED - there is no better word to describe what has happened with the yes votes on 30. I totally agree that ALL administrators should take the pay cut, if it was important enough for the teachers to make the sacrifice - then it should be AS important for the administrators. I mean after all shouldn't ALL parties be working as a team working towards a common goal?

Once again it looks like administrators apply one rule to teachers and quite another to themselves.

This is wrong--if any group is required to take a cut, all should be required to take a cut--the very same percentage.

Any other course of action is duplicitous and just plain wrong.

Eastlaker, it is a little bit more sinister than that. Administrators will take a cut but this is how it gets nasty: 1. Nish hires in at the highest salary ever given to a Southwestern College President--this is done in the middle of the worst budget crisis in the State of California (2012). Mind you she does not even have a day of experience as a college president. Amazing, this Board hires a person in the worst crisis the State has faced and she doesn't even have any experience. 2. Two months into the job Nish demands that the Board give all her VPs a $24,000 raise, in the middle of the worst budget crisis in the State (see the theme here). She explains that the pool for the VPs she is trying to hire for her "dream Team" is bad and as other colleges pay VPs better (this is how "data driven" decisions are made with this Board), she wants a $24,000 raise for each. This Board votes yes! Did I say it was the worst budget crisis...Then they hire the VPs and at least two out of three of the hires were applicants that had applied for the job before the raise was in place. 3. A month later Nish demands that all employees take a 5% cut, and the unions, particularly the SCEA guy (who is now a Dean at Mesa---hmmmm) press faculty to take the cut. Read Mahler's response to that action in this article. Nish justifies this by saying that her VPs will take a 5% cut too, so it is fair. Give me a $24,000 raise and I will take a 5% cut anyday. 4. Several months later, under an administration hiring freeze, Nish demands that the Board approve an administration position and receives a Board override of the freeze. 5. Nish has hired a number of "consultants" this past year (employees who serve at her whim, and who undergo no hiring committee process in place for employees at the campus). She hates having to negotiate with the employees so much, that she surrounds herself with consultants, and bribed VPs. 6. One of Nish's VP hires (Mr. Human Resources--what a laugh that is) has no community college experience (he comes from an elementary school District up north) but he has a history, through his "consulting" firm, of knuckle crunching on unions during District negotiations.

Are you getting the picture?

Thanks, I was not aware that such a twisted history existed.

And here I had been thinking that things were getting better at SWC.

It's beginning to appear that maybe we weren't duped by Prop 30 after all, but let down by the college administration's misplaced priorities and the mispending of the monies generated. Same problem in Sweetwater.

Duped is right, as well as manipulated and lied to. Here's the thing: SWC has been mismanaged for a very long time and criminal minds have taken advantage of the mismanagement.

(What makes anyone think all of them have been found out? And where's the money? How much is missing, misspent or piddled away on 1 manager per 7 workers?)

The upshot is that the workers are being expected -- no -- commanded to pay for years of abuse, neglect, and legal infractions incurred by same.

Solution: Beg San Diego Community College District to absorb our sorry behinds. At least then the people of Chula Vista can sleep at night knowing their children and friends are going to be able to reach their goals without being distracted daily by management's insane approach to running a school as if it were a war zone.

I think you have hit on the solution.

Why protect a corrupt entity?

Nish's rush to this is also an interesting tactic. For the past several years we have negotiated from a Big Table with all unions and associations at the table and all budget information on the table, close to transparent. This past year she and the Board have eliminated the Big Table, separated the unions and associations, and pitted them against one another. Faculty know this is another of her intimidation techniques, mastered by Ramon the VP of Inhuman Resources at the college. Faculty have refused to fall into this absolute backward move in negotiations. She is in a tizzy over this fact. She intends to knuckle fist the faculty into taking what other units have, and she is gritting her teeth over this process.

In her new budget missive sent out today, she even admits that we will be receiving a 1.6 cola increase (a conservative estimate) in the coming year, the biggest since 2007. She also knows she does not need to send her final budget forward until September, she is mean not stupid. She knows she can dismantle Otay Mesa Center over the summer and move those programs to National City or the main campus over those three months if the Center funding does not come through. Heck SWC has made bigger moves in shorter periods of time. Most people think the Otay Center should have been dismantled years ago, it is like a ghost town during the day. She is a real estate broker (for reals), for heaven's sake, ply your trade, rent the place out and plan to sell in the long run. There is a huge chunk of cash in that albatross. But no, we will give out pink slips, claim all else is impossible, while we cut classes and services to students so Otay can stay open. This is a value system that does not reflect the mission of an educational institution.

And she has still not given an accounting of what she did with the 5% of our salary she took this year. If 88% of our budget goes to salaries and she got a 5% cut of that, where did it go? VP salaries? New Admin? Consultants? Not to students, and not to the faculty and staff who serve them. No, to these folks she gives pink slips.

Otay Mesa already has Center Status. Closing it will take away the $1 million per year the College already receives from the state. All three Centers generate more money for the College than what they spend. National City and San Ysidro are currently profitable and they have not received Center Status. Once they do, the College will receive an additional $2 million per year from the state.

How is the Governors new decision regarding ADULT ED going to effect SWC?

No doubt Nish did not take kindly to being disrespected by Ed Brand of Sweetwater attempting to take SWC students away via Grand Canyon University.

The Adult Ed program was long touted as the best of the best - then Brand and 'the gandara' discovered the funds and began trimming, and trimming, and trimming.

Would be interested in all of your opinions on this.

I would think sooooo much more could be accomplished at SUHSD and SWC if ONLY those in power would take a different approach - I agree that all partners should share in the sacrifice, but it appears that teachers and other employees appear to be doing the only sacrificing.

Let us not forget Ed Brands new contract - extremely rich, yet we are constantly being told WE ARE BROKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

...and by default, with no voice in this, the students and community do the lion's share of sacrificing.

The SWC District has not provided any evidence, data or clear justification for pay cuts, lay-offs or concessions other than,"because we say so." For well over a decade, classified professionals and faculty have asked for the District to disclose budget allocations and various financial records (information that is commonly and regularly provided at other institutions). The District simply does not provide it. At the last Governing Board meeting, Board Member William Stewart requested that the information be forwarded. To this day, the campus community has not received it.

It sounds like there's at least one board member asking questions. Are the rest in Nish's pocket?

Personally, I think the answer is no. However, some feel differently than I. The way the system is set up makes it so the Superintendent/President has unlimited access to discuss issues with Board Members, but staff and faculty are primarily regulated to 3-minute spurts during Oral Communication at monthly Board Meetings. It may be that some good people are receiving one-sided/lopsided information. He/she who controls the information flow maintains the upper hand, yes?

I think things would work differently if classified professional and faculty leaders had the same privilege of hours-long meetings with the Board from which a Superintendent/President benefits. As the system is set up, they don't. Hence, staff and faculty have to gather in large numbers to be heard. With very limited direct access to discuss issues with Board Members, they are left to rely on blogs, news articles and demonstrations.

Here are some lessons not noted so far. Employers and employees have contradictory interests. That is why people think they join unions. Unions that deny that reality, as does every major labor leader in the USA, evaporate: note the UAW. Collective bargaining is domesticated class war, nothing else. Any union that is not, every day, organizing for control of the work place, ie, the ability to open and close it, is not bargaining, but begging. "Concessions do not save jobs; like giving blood to sharks, concessions make bosses want more. Solidarity is key. The main target of the cuts of classes, profs, and money is the student body--their minds and bodies as schools become illusion mills and human munition factories--missions for capitalism and empire. United resistance of faculty, all faculty, students, and staff is vital. To grasp the social context, note that the education agenda, all over the USA, is a war agenda--class war and lost empire's wars. The rest is details.

Academic freedom is not just a phrase, it is a requirement for a functional democratic society.

Community colleges exist so that people who are interested in higher education have a way to pursue their goals, dreams and aspirations without having to go into debt--everyone knows that.

So why would the very person who has been selected to lead a community college inflate administrative salaries and administrative positions, and then turn around and start whittling away at course listings?

Is it merely personal greed? So that at the end of the fiscal year, Nish can say things are "on track" while she personally benefits monitarily? It is starting to look like that. Did she think that, having been able to arrive and give a good impression, that was all she would need to do in order to gut the system to her own benefit?

This community college--as it is the only institution of higher learning in the south bay--has meant a great deal to many people in Chula Vista and surrounding communities.

These communities are not interested in watching a landmark being reduced and destroyed. If you think my language is too "heightened", just ask yourselves, what classes would be cut?

What would that mean to the students? What did it mean when the program for training safety officers "went away" so suddenly? It meant that people who had trained for a couple of years found themselves without a credential they were nearly in possession of.

Which meant a great deal professionally, as didn't they then need to go elsewhere for that credential? Did they get credit for the time already put in?

What happens to people when hurdles appear? Some people keep jumping over them, and some people get worn down. Which side is Ms. Nish on?

Should our educational system at Southwestern Community College become a hindrance by throwing curveballs at unsuspecting students and instructors? I don't think so. Students need stability in order to pursue their goals. They need to see a system that functions ethically--which does not include stripping the course listings of offered courses.

The culture of arrogance among educational administrators must come to an end. Bottom to top--these people, whose job it is to provide educational opportunities to the public, need to remember why they are here. They are not here to build the sweet cushy empire of their dreams, to the destruction of the school system and the students. They are here to ensure that our society has educated people in perpetuity. Why is that so difficult for Ms. Nish to understand?


(sung to Country Joe MacDonald’s “Feelin’ Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”)

Well, listen hear friends, won’t you lend a hand / Southwestern needs your help again / We got ourselves in a terrible jam / Way down here in the Southland / We’re in the news, we got a hired gun / Layoff threats are so much fun!


And it’s one, two, three / What are we fightin’ for? / Don’t you see, we’re all fed up / Of havin’ our wages cut? / And it’s five, six, seven, / We might all lose our jobs / Well, there ain’t no cause to fuss and fret / Whoopie! We’re not fired…yet!

Callin’ VPs, pack your bags / Come on down to the Promised Land! / These pesky cuts won’t hurt a bit / Cuz we’ve got a deal made to fit / You’ll receive an extra 25K, / And we’ll take it from the underlings’ pay!

– Repeat chorus –

Well, come on consultants across the land / There’s plenty of money to be had / Give the school your sage advice / Don’t worry none, you don’t hafta be right / Admin’s gonna pay you well / So they can send us all to hell / (In a handbasket!)

– Repeat chorus –

Oh, pish posh, all you faculty / Admin just needs more of your money / After that, they won’t take much more / You’ll be fine if you’d just plan to be poor / So sign away on the dotted line / Admin says we’ll be fine / (Wee Hah!)

– Repeat chorus –

Now all you students, keep your cool / Admin needs your help too / Classes cut, don’t say a thing / Just think of all the dough you’ll bring / To subsidize the VIPs / And line the pockets of corrupt trustees

– Repeat chorus –

Come on taxpayers, pay the fees / Send your kids to SWC! / And all you vets and returning folks / You can’t find classes, well, there’s the joke / Lay off teachers, we won’t be fools / We just won’t have no school! / (No school!)

– Repeat chorus –

Eugene, Pretty catchy lyrics.

I want to say thanks to commenters and also to the people, both classified and faculty, who have contacted me through my gmail listed on the Reader website. Quite a surprising outcry. There seems to be quite a bit more backstory regarding what has been going on at Southwestern.

It's just sad to see Southwestern college faculty dealing with more divisive issues. When the new president came in she was given so much good will that the faculty voted to reduce their salarie by 5 percent. Turning right around and spending that savings to fund a raise for administrators and now bringing up th possibility of pink slips for full time faculty and wanting them to take another 5percent hit is just squandering all of tht good will. It's kind of like Bush after 9-11.

Love the song, Eugene. Any chance we could invite you employ someone to sing it at SWC governing board meeting?

Here is the link to the music -- scroll down to get the chords: http://www.countryjoe.com/feelmus.htm

You can hear the song on the same page or search for it -- it's also called the Vietnam Rag or the Vietnam Song.

We can ask around if anyone can attend with a guitar. It is also easily sung a capella once you get the tune in your head. What a genius that Country Joe is!

It is amazing to me that my local college would take money from teachers and give money to administrators.

We, the community in the South Bay, were very proud of our school, our institution of higher learning--our community conduit to art, literature, music, education and athletics--until they took money away from our teachers, until they canceled our classes that would help to shape our futures. We value our education enough to pay for it. This is our community and our college and we need to let our elected officials on the governing board know that we will not stand for further misuse of our money.

We expect our college to expand our class offerings with the extra money we are paying now because we voted in proposition 30 and 32. There are no excuses.

Please Attend the Meeting:

Special Southwestern College Governing Board Meeting

DATE: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TIME: 6:30 p.m.

LOCATION: Southwestern College, 900 Otay Lakes Road, Chula Vista 91910

Learning Resource Center, Room L238 North & South

(L238 is In the Library complex)

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