College District faces budget crunch as Chancellor’s exit nears

The Contra Costa County Community College District continues to burn through its savings in order to balance its annual budget

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Longtime District Chancellor Helen Benjamin is scheduled to retire in December. In light of the District’s growing financial problems, a swift exit right about now sounds like a good plan.

Helen Benjamin Materials presented to the District Board at this week’s budget meeting reveal deteriorating finances, largely due to the growing cost of employee pensions. The District’s total pension costs are expected to nearly double during the next five years, increasing from $11,351,577 today to $22,018,138 in fiscal year 2020-21 (Source: Defined Benefit Pension Contributions 2016-2021).

In addition, the District continues to burn through its savings in order to balance its annual budget. This alarming trend is expected to continue, as the staff’s rosy best-case-scenario budget estimates show:

Operating Budget

FY 2016/17 FY 2017/18

FY 2018/19

Beginning Fund Balance

$ 26,054,847

$ 23,016,845 $ 18,189,305

Revenues

178,981,863  183,119,433

188,837,566

Expenditures

182,019,865

187,946,972

193,812,305

Reserves Used to Balance Budget

(3,038,002)

(4,827,540)

(4,974,739)

Ending Fund Balance

$ 23,016,845 $ 18,189,305

$ 13,214,566

Source: 2016-2019 Budget Forecast

This week’s Board agenda also includes a not-to-exceed-$50K headhunter contract with Association of Community College Trustees, to conduct the Chancellor search. Following Benjamin’s 10-year tenure in the post, her departure offers an opportunity for the District to set a new course.

It appears the search for a replacement can’t begin soon enough. The Board is expected to build a recruitment plan that ensures broad participation and input from Board members, District personnel, students, local employers and the community at large. This is to be expected when filling a leadership post at a prominent community institution — particularly one facing serious challenges.

Here’s some suggested wording for the recruitment brochure:

Wanted:  Change agent with strong business background.  Extensive experience in successful financial turnarounds required.  Financial acumen essential. Experience herding cats highly desirable.

Happy to help.

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Proposed sabbatical for College Chancellor Helen Benjamin raises questions

At its July 23, 2014 meeting the Contra Costa Community College District Board will consider a two-month, paid sabbatical leave request from District Chancellor Helen Benjamin.  On the same agenda Benjamin recommends hire of an interim replacement, former Contra Costa College President McKinley Williams, at a District cost of over $53,000 for two months’ work.  Williams retired from the District in 2011 following 21 years of service with Contra Costa College.

Waiving District’s no-cost sabbatical policy

District policy requires that two-month sabbatical leaves “not cause additional expense to the District.”  In considering Helen Benjamin’s leave request, on the same agenda the Board will consider waiving this policy in order to hire an interim Chancellor.  To date the District has made no exceptions to its no-cost sabbatical policy.

Notably, the staff report offers no alternatives to hiring a $53,000 temp contrary to District policy, nor does it discuss the fiscal or policy impacts of doing so.

This is the first sabbatical leave requested by Helen Benjamin in her 24 years with the District.  She proposes a “split” leave for two non-consecutive months, August 11-September 5 and October 27-November 21, 2014.  During this time Benjamin would remain in the area, as the proposed sabbatical leave project requires no out-of-area travel.

Is it worth it?

The purpose of the sabbatical leave is to allow Benjamin to study management practices of local corporations “associated with professional development and diversity and equity activities” for the purpose of developing “recommended practices, policies, and procedures” for the college district.  Benjamin’s leave would yield a work product in the form of a 15+-page term paper, due in January 2015, as stated in her leave application Chancellor Benjamin Sabbatical 072314 (agenda item 6B) that states, in part:

The completed sabbatical program will consist of a document containing at least 15 pages of text resulting from the four objectives outlined in the proposal. The document will provide information gleaned from visits and interactions with the CEO and/or key employees representing manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and/or a private or not-for-profit institution of higher learning. The research will focus on activities associated with professional development and diversity and equity activities, culminating in recommended practices, policies, and procedures that could be adopted by the District.

District officials advise this is the first two-month sabbatical requested in the past decade or more.  The last sabbatical leave requested and approved for a management employee occurred 4 years ago, for a six-month leave.

The proposed contract for services with McKinley Williams Interim Chancellor Contract 072314 (agenda item 6A) includes a monthly base salary of $22,500, monthly $600 auto allowance and $800 “community relations stipend” and limited benefits.  The total monthly cost for Williams’ services is estimated at $26,800, with the total two-month cost estimated at $53,600.

During her leave of absence Helen Benjamin would continue to receive full pay and benefits from the District.

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Bond measure for Community College District in 2014

community-college-bond-measureLiving in a Contra Costa County home may cost more if a proposed community-college bond measure passes. The Contra Costa Community College District wants to put a $450 bond measure on the June 2014 ballot. The bond measure, if passed, would raise property taxes. Continue reading “Bond measure for Community College District in 2014”

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K-12 Schools Must Improve to Help East Bay Economy Stay Competitive

Last month Contra Costa County Supervisors were briefed on the region’s future job outlook by representatives from the Contra Costa Community College Districtthe county’s Workforce Development Board and the Contra Costa Council. These groups work with leaders from local industry to develop job training programs to meet employer needs. The discussion focused on job growth in the context of developing Contra Costa’s 75 miles of northern shoreline and its harbors between Richmond and Oakley.

Continue reading “K-12 Schools Must Improve to Help East Bay Economy Stay Competitive”

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Stop College District vote to approve handout for FAT CAT UNIONS, Dec 14

contra costa community college district, project labor agreement, PLA, fat cat, union only contracts, economic discriminationThe Contra Costa Community College District is getting ready to vote on Dec. 14th to allow only UNION contractors to bid and work on jobs for the district. This is un-American and needs to be stopped. There are so many people out of work and to ONLY allow the FAT CAT UNIONS through Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) to benefit from government projects is unconscionable.

When: December 14th
Time: 6pm
Where: George Gordon education center, 500 court street, Martinez Continue reading “Stop College District vote to approve handout for FAT CAT UNIONS, Dec 14”

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