Saturday, February 27, 2010

Letters to the Editor

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This month, two Southwestern College teachers and community members published letters in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read on:

Friday, February 19, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.

Southwestern vibrant, despite probation

It is of great concern and regret that the only institution of higher education in South County has, for the first time in its nearly 50-year history, been placed on probation by the accrediting commission for community colleges. The findings and recommendations by the WASC team can be viewed in their entirety at

No doubt this probationary status was imposed because eight of 10 previous recommendations made in the 2003 visit still had not been completely satisfied by WASC’s October 2009 visit. Upon review of the report, readers will determine that the primary findings are due to administrative shortcomings and ongoing problems with governance.

However, what the report does state clearly is that, “A sense of vibrancy and student engagement pervades the college, and faculty and staff are clearly dedicated to students and to providing a supportive environment for learning to occur.” It further states, “Turnover in administration has caused middle managers and faculty to take responsibility for the continuity of the day-to-day activities of the college. Staff loyalty and the evident engagement of student in the life of the college have sustained the college through its difficulties.”

As a dedicated and proud employee of Southwestern College, I want to assure the South County that we will continue to work very hard and passionately to provide excellent programs and services to our students.

As a member of this community, I encourage you to exercise your right to determine (at the coming 2010 governing board elections) who will best serve the interests of our much more deserving students and community.


Chula Vista


Saturday, February 27, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.

Accreditation review is serious business

In October, four Southwestern College faculty were suspended after a rally protesting unwarranted class cuts. An administrator was sent with armed police to the home of each instructor to do this. I was one of the instructors. This dictatorial act and countless others have given cause for our college to earn a probationary status.

I was banned 14 days from teaching, from campus and from college e-mail. I could not communicate to my students what had happened.

Regrettably, all our efforts to work collegially with our governing board and president have been summarily dismissed. We at Southwestern College want our college back.


San Diego

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Don't Get MAD...

I'm mad!Get the facts!

Last night (Feb. 23), the SWC Governing Board held a "special" (as in, "emergency") meeting to discuss... the college's accreditation fiasco? Nope! How to best provide an education through these ostensibly lean times? Nope!

This "special" meeting was held for the routine task of establishing non-resident fees. So why the emergency? Uh, well, it appears that deadline mandated by the state Education Code is the 1st of February. (Ed Code Section 76140: "(d) The nonresident tuition fee shall be set by the governing board of each community college district not later than February 1 of each year for the succeeding fiscal year.")

Oops! Apparently, no one on the Board (despite several being elected for many years) remembered this deadline. And we guess Vice President for Business of Financial Affairs, Nick Alioto, was too busy checking locked and unlocked doors.

At any rate, Phil Lopez, president of the faculty union, SCEA, has been paying attention:

The SCEA Looks at the Budget

Part of Governing Board members’ fiduciary responsibility to the community is, of course, maintaining the long-term financial integrity of the District. Another part of this fiduciary responsibility is using taxpayer money for the purpose it is intended: Educating our students.

Some History:
Finding a balance between these two conflicting responsibilities—prudent spending vs. prudent savings—is what managing and overseeing a budget is all about. The data below, all of which comes from the CCFS – 311 reports filed annually with the Chancellor’s Office, reveals that the District has been wildly off-base in its budget decisions.

While our community, and perhaps even individual Board members, believe that we’re in the middle of a catastrophic budget crisis, in reality, the District has been putting millions of dollars into an unnecessarily bloated reserve fund.

Fiscal Year

Budgeted Ending Balance

Ending Balance


% Difference

06 - 07

$10.114 M

$10.538 M

$0.424 M


07 - 08

$ 7.078 M

$11.014 M

$3.936 M


08 - 09

$ 5.420 M

$13.467 M

$8.047 M


09 - 10

$ 8.133 M

$15.131 M

(on 12/31/09)

$6.998 M


Look above at the columns labeled “Actual Ending Balance.” You’ll see that during a series of bad budget years, the District has consistently increased its yearly ending balance. On June 30, 2007, the end of the 06 - 07 fiscal year, it was $10.538 million. Only two and a half years later, at the end of December, 2009, the ending balance is $15.131 million. That’s $4.593 million more, an increase of 43.6%.

Chicken Little:
Every year, the District claims that (1.) we’re facing a deficit, and the sky is about to fall. In fact, (2.) we haven’t been losing money; we’ve turned a hefty profit each and very year.

(1.) If you look at the “Actual Ending Balance” for 07 – 08, you’ll see it was $11.014 million. Next, if you look at the “Budgeted Ending Balance” for the next year, 08 – 09, you’ll find it was $5.420 million. In other words, these budget numbers indicate that the District would lose $5.594 million during the 08 - 09 fiscal year.

(2.) However, when you look at the “Actual Ending Balance” for 08 – 09, you’ll see what really happened: Instead of losing $5.594 million, the District made $2.453 million.

The same thing happens every year: Budgeted numbers predict a loss, but actual numbers show a gain.

The 09 – 10 Budget:
Nothing is different this year. The District’s budget predicted that our ending balance would decline from $13.467 million to $8.133 million; in other words, the budget said we would lose $5.334 million. We’re halfway through this fiscal year, and the most recent “General Cash Fund Analysis” presented to the Governing Board indicates that the District’s ending balance as of December 31, 2009 was $15.131 million. We’ve made $1.664 million so far this year.

How much money the District will have in the bank on June 30, 2010, the end of this fiscal year is an open question. Monthly cash flow reports show balances that fluctuate up and down, but the general trend is up. It is certainly arguable that if the District has made $1.6 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, then it should make another $1.6 million in the remaining six months of the same fiscal year—especially since there have been no mid-year cuts to California community college budgets. Furthermore, the District cut 400+ classes for the Spring semester. Cutting classes means cutting adjunct faculty members’ salaries which means saving even more money—from $1.3 - $1.7 million. It is possible that the ending balance at the end of this fiscal year could be as much as $18 million. One thing is a virtual certainty: The District will not lose money this year.

A Prudent Minimum Reserve:
The Chancellor’s Office recommends a prudent minimum reserve of 5 percent. The Governing Board requires a 7 percent reserve at SWC. However, our reserves are much higher than this.

The balance at the beginning of this fiscal year was $13.467 million. Of this amount $2.127 million is restricted money, which can’t be counted. The remaining $5.5 million in unrestricted money in the budget is called the “Uncommitted Reserve.” This entire amount was budgeted as a loss, but it has not been spent—and will not be spent—this year. In reality, the 7 percent Governing Board reserve of $6.006 million plus the unspent “Uncommitted Reserve” of $5.334 million represents a reserve of 13.4 percent. The reserves as of December 31, 2009 amount to 15.1 percent. If the ending balance at the end of this fiscal year increases even more, the District could have as much as 17 percent in reserve.

Bottom line: The District’s reserves are about three times greater than is recommended by the Chancellor’s Office as a prudent minimum. District reserves are intended to be used as a “rainy day fund” to get us through lean budget years. Instead of spending these reserves, the District has increased them—at the same time it has laid off employees and cut classes.

A Solution:
The recent Accreditation Report from ACCJC criticizes the top-down decision making processes at SWC. The Budget Committee as it currently exists is a prime example of top-down decision making: It meets about once a month and decides nothing. It has operated under the assumption that the District is spending more money than it is taking in when the opposite is true. A direct result of these faulty assumptions was the layoff of employees during the last academic year and deep class cuts this year. It appears that neither of these decisions was necessary or prudent.

Because the Accreditation Report from ACCJC requires shared governance, shared decision making, and integrated planning, and because budget decisions drive nearly all other decisions at SWC, building a budget must include all stakeholders—students, classified professionals, faculty, and administrators—in our campus community.

We need an interest-based budgeting process, similar to the process used successfully at Big Table committees in the past, to put together a yearly budget at SWC. We need trained facilitators to keep the committee on track and to move the process along. Finally, the Governing Board should realize that any decisions or recommendations from such a committee would be based on the most important interest we all share—the long-term financial integrity of the District.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The SWC "Shadow Budget" Exposed

To justify class cuts and job elimination, the district is claiming financial calamity. Here's another view:

The following message was sent by Frank Post, a member of the faculty negotiating team, to all instructors in Fall 2009.

Attached you find four documents revealing that SWC has been operating with a shadow budget process.

I have reviewed the last three years of board agendas and attachments and provide these documents in an effort to bring to light the "real" budget situation at Southwestern Community College District.

I have provided five pdf attachments (note: all links will open in new windows/tabs)
#1 is a combined file of all four documents
#2 is General Fund Cash Analysis for period ending May 31, 2008
#3 is General Fund Cash Analysis for period ending April 30, 2009
#4 is General Fund Cash Analysis for period ending October 31, 2009
#5 is Tentative Budget - FY 2009-2010

Let me offer some examples, all of which are confirmed by the District's own documents neatly tucked away inside lengthy Board Agendas but never openly reviewed in actual board meetings.

A. In item #2 we see a Monthly Ending Cash Balance Average of $8,924,460.
B. In item #3 we see a Monthly Ending Cash Balance Average of $9,355,270.
C. In item #4 we see a Monthly Ending Cash Balance Average of $13,531,774.77.

D. Item #5 gives us a glimpse of how the District works its magic.

On the bottom of item #5 we see the total ending Balances of Actual, Adopted and Tentative budget years.

Look carefully at how high the Actual ending balances are for 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, both above 10 million dollars each.

Now look at the ending balances for the Adopted and tentative budgets of 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. Both below 7 million dollars.

So how does it work? Still looking at item #5 we see the number of $5,419,812 as the Total Ending Balance under Adopted Budget 2008-2009. Well that is the number the Governing Board is told to make decisions from. So for example, if the SWC Governing Board wants a 6% budget reserve, well, out of an approximate 90 million dollar budget that is about 5 million dollars. So in this scenario, the board sees that they barely have enough to cover their precious reserve; therefore, SWC MUST be very fiscally conservative that year just in order to maintain its reserve.

BUT, looking at item #4 we see that our "Beginning Cash" for July 2009 is $9,533,133.65, almost 4 millions dollars more than what the board thought they had to spend.

We see the same thing in item #5 happening in 2009-2010 year. The "Total Ending Balance" the board is presented with for the Tentative Budget 2009-2010 year is $6,850.188.

BUT, looking at item #4 we see that already though October 31, 2009 we are carrying an average cash balance at the end of each month of $13,531,774.77.

That 13+ million dollars represents more than 7 million dollars above the 6% reserve the SWC Board wishes to maintain.

What does this all mean? It means that the district hides money away in various accounts, claiming the money will be spent, but it actually never is; thus in reality the district is carrying a "Shadow Reserve" of some several million dollars each year above the stated 6% Governing Board Reserve.

Our beginning balances for each of the past few years (I don't yet have records earlier than 2006-2007) show we have much more cash on hand than what the board believes is available to be spent each year.

I'd be happy to meet and go over this and present the material to you in person if you would like.

I also would ask that you consider requesting that the S.C.E.A. hire an independent accountant (separate from CTA/CCA) that specializes in Educational Budgets and Financing to audit SWC's books.

Frank Post
Faculty, Adapted Computer Technology Specialist
S.C.E.A. Negotiation Team Member
Southwestern College
(619) 421-6700 extension 5275

It's worth mentioning that the February 10, 2010 Board agenda also includes the most recent Quarterly Financial Status Report, CCFS-311Q. It's Item 14B3, on page 281 (out of 285 pages). In the report, question VII asks, "Does the district have significant fiscal problems that must be addressed?" The answers: "This year? NO. Next year? NO."

In fact, the district continues to make money. So where's the financial crisis?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Two big events coming up in the next couple of days:

Tomorrow night (Wednesday) is the February Governing Board meeting. Here's the agenda.

The following night (Thursday) is the Meet-and-Greet new Governing Board candidates fundraiser in Bonita.

Please try to attend one or/and the other.

The Board meeting will be held at the San Ysidro campus at 460 West San Ysidro Blvd., San Ysidro, CA 92173. On the agenda are Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra's evaluation by the Governing Board (please see this post for initial reaction and the faculty evaluation for follow-up) and the reinstatement of compensation for the faculty advisor of the award-winning college newspaper, the SWC Sun.

For details on the Meet-and-Greet, please see this flyer.

A Note to Students and the Community

Dear Students and Community Members:

My name is Patti Flores-Charter, and I have been a faculty member at Southwestern College since 1992. I am also a member of the faculty Academic Senate and Senate Executive Committee.

The SWC Accreditation Report raises many questions. This note is to

  • Give you enough information to understand what is happening at our college with accreditation.

  • Help you feel confident and calm about the safety of the classes in which you are now enrolled.

I will include what I know about the accreditation process and my experiences from participating in the last three accreditations at SWC, including this one. I think that will help you understand why our college was placed on probation and how we got here. You have chosen to be a college student because you know that knowledge is power. So I will work here to give you the knowledge needed to be in control of the information about what is happening to our College.
  1. Classes are safe: All current and past classes at SWC remain accredited; nothing has changed. We have not lost accreditation. Classes will transfer, count for an associate’s degrees, for certificates, licensure, work requirements, etc. Please don’t worry.

  2. You’re right, accreditation is critical. It is a federal process organized by geographic area. Each area has an official office that oversees each college’s accreditation. Our office is in Northern California. Here is the website for more information:

  3. College Standards are set by the accreditation system for every aspect of a college from curriculum (what is taught, how it is graded, etc.), hiring practices, campus policies, to financial aid and tutoring, etc.

  4. Possible Accreditation Outcomes: After the site visit, all evidence is reviewed by the Accrediting Office with a decision made about accreditation and provided in a final report. Outcomes may include:

    1. Re-accredited, nothing changes. In the past we have always been reaccredited with accommodations and recommendations for improvement made. This was normal for our college.

    2. Warning: This identifies that improvements are needed and specifies those. A timeline is given (usually a year or more) with a report due on progress. No site visit.

    3. Probation: This is what SWC received, and it means that improvements must be made, specifying both improvements and a timeline. This is a serious level of what is called a “sanction”. We must improve by the timeline or risk getting the next level of sanction, Show Cause.

    4. Show Cause: At this level, the college is a step away from losing accreditation. The college must prove that it should not lose accreditation.

    5. Accreditation withdrawn

    Problem Areas Identified in the Report

  5. Dismantling of Shared Governance: Our community colleges have state law that requires the administration and governing board to listen to facultyinput. This is called Shared Governance. This has not happened, so it is an area that must improve.

  6. No Office of Research: Accreditation requires hard data on critical college functions, so every college must have an Office of Research. We have not had one since former President Norma Hernandez was in charge. Thus we could not get the research we needed for the SLO requirements, Academic Program Review, and many Curriculum tasks. This is an area that must improve.

    Here is a list of other areas affected by the lack of Shared Governance to date: This Governing Board has approved Dr. Chopra’s dismantling of

      1. Office of Research
      2. Office of Instruction
      3. Office of Business and Fiscal Affairs
      4. Office of Human Resources
      5. Financial Aid Office
      6. Office of Admission
      7. Performing Arts Program
      8. Student Newspaper
      9. Outreach Office
      10. SWC Foundation
      11. Grant Writing Program (at a time when everyone is writing grants)

So What Do We Do?

For our college to recover, our Governing Board, President, and Vice-Presidents would have to establish a working environment of mutual respect. On campus we all need to be interested in working together in an environment of mutual trust and collaboration as our federal and state legislatures require. To date the President and voting majority has refused all input from our faculty at every Governing Board meeting since Norma Hernandez's departure. We went to the extreme measure of Votes of No Confidence, first in our College President last April 2009 and finally of our Governing Board. Typically, after a vote of No Confidence, a College President will resign soon afterward or the Governing Board will take action. Colleges don’t function under conditions of “No Confidence.” In reality, with our No Confidence Vote the faculty requested that the Board intercede and help us establish a relationship of mutual trust with our President. We were summarily ignored, which led to the No Confidence in the Board.

Only Board Members Nick Aguilar and Jorge Dominguez have listened and tried to intervene. But they are only a minority vote. We have been working in a triage environment under this Board, reacting to one poorly informed decision after another.

Keep in mind there never has been a fiscal crisis at our college. Fiscal reports filed each year with our state Chancellor’s Office have shown this. There was no college to rescue from the brink of fiscal bankruptcy unless those reports were filed erroneously.

There is Good News: We have amazing faculty, classified staff, directors, and deans who understand how an award winning college must operate, because we are one despite our treatment under this current administrative regime. We can get back to where we were, but we need your help NOW.

  1. Contact your Governing Board Members of SWC and College President today and demand the change we must have in leadership. Use your voice and be heard.

  2. Write to the Union Tribune and Chula Vista Star about our needs.

  3. Stay informed and vote in the coming Nov. 2010 election when three Governing Board seats are up for election.

  4. Read more from our

College is on Probation, but President Chopra Flunks

Last week, the Southwestern College Academic Senate gave faculty the opportunity to evaluate Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra.

Here are the results.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sun Shines on the Voice

SWC Sun reporters Sean Campbell and Lyndsey Winkley guest at The Voice of San Diego!

Their article presents a cogent overview of Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra's behavior and campus conflicts leading up to recent issues with the college's accreditation: Southwestern College Pushed to the Brink by Brutal Power Struggle

Congratulations, Sean and Lyndsey! Thank you, Voice, for finally listening!

Meanwhile, you might be wondering why we haven't posted links to any of the other news pieces out there. So far, we've found a lot of misinformation and sloppy reading of the accreditation report. You can expect a post with links once we've composed a debriefing.

A couple points to keep in mind:

First, the college is in trouble--yes. We here at Save Our Southwestern have been saying this since before the accreditation report came out, before the free speech and faculty suspension disaster. If you'd like to see the documentation, just look back at the original posts made on this blog.

Folks at the college have been saying it (and trying to get the attention of WASC--the accrediting agency) since the Board forced Ron S. Dyste (friend of then-GB member David Agosto) on the college as Vice President of Academic Affairs, leading a popular and collaborative president, Norma Hernandez, to resign.

Most importantly, the college will survive. Administrators and board members come and go, but the heart of SWC will beat on. The real work of the college is done on the ground by the many full- and part-time staff (classified, faculty, and hourly). We're here; the college is here. Please support us and Save Our Southwestern College.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Meet and Greet Potential SWC Governing Board Candidates

The Southwestern College Education Association PAC is sponsoring a meet-and-greet event for potential SWC Governing Board candidates.

Greetings Community Members of SWC,

Over the last year several prominent community members have expressed interest in running for SWC Governing Board for either a recall election or in the Nov. 2010 General Election.

Three seats are up for election in the Nov. 2010. Meanwhile a recall was started in Dec. because we would not wait any longer to get the word out about the critical problems the current Governing Board majority (Ms. Roesch, Ms. Saucido, and Ms. Valladolid) is causing Southwestern College. Through their voting actions and blanket support for President Dr. Raj Chopra's they have allowed our Accreditation to be in danger for the first time in the college’s history.

They have in the least refused to listen to any input during Oral Communication by community members, students, staff, and faculty every month; and at the worst they are openly condescending to the public and fellow board members, Jorge Dominguez and Nick Aguilar.

To assist our Community to better understand the issues and what is at stake, we have organized a “Meet and Greet” open to all potential Governing Board candidates.

Where: Romesco Baja Med Bistro (in the Tapas Bar)
When: Thursday, February 11th, 2010, from 4:30 to 6:30PM.
Suggested minimum donation: $25 advance/$30 at the door. Appetizers will be provided.

All proceeds will go to the SCEA PAC to support alternative SWC Governing Board candidates running in November 2010.

This “Meet and Greet” is open to all potential Governing Board Candidates for November 2010 elections and to all interested SWC employees, community members, and friends and family.

For more details, see this flyer.

Please RSVP to Janet Mazzarella at or Andrew Rempt at

Please share this with family, friends, and business contacts. Together we can Save Our Southwestern College.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Southwestern College on Probation

The just-released accreditation report from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) reveals that Southwestern College has been placed "on probation" for ten different violations of educational standards.

ACCJC is a sub-group of WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, one of six regional associations that accredit public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S.

For any educational institution, accreditation is essential. It ensures government funding, the availability of financial aid for students, and the transferability of courses. More importantly, accreditation serves as quality control, assuring the public that an educational institution is sound.

Loss of accreditation is rare, and the process of losing accreditation has several levels and steps. The first is "warning." The second is "probation," which applies to SWC. In this case, the college will have until this October to address five of the issues and until May 2011 to address the rest. For a summary of the areas needing improvement, see the ACCJC Action Letter.

The college held the first of several planned "Town Hall" meetings this evening at 5:00. While we're not sure what a town hall meeting entails, this certainly felt more like a press conference. Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra spoke briefly and optimistically about how the report represents an "opportunity" and how "the glass is half full." Academic Senate President Valerie Goodwin-Colbert was more forthcoming about how the college's own self-study had identified problem areas, though she also stressed a positive "let's do this" approach.

Dean of Instructional Support Services, Mink Stavenga (as newly-appointed accreditation liaison), then took center stage and fielded most of the audience's (often pointed) questions.

There will be additional "Town Hall" meetings on both the main and satellite campuses:

The next scheduled forum on the
Chula Vista campus will take place

Thursday, February 4, 2010 from 11:00 a.m. to noon

Student Union East (Cafeteria)

Additional meetings will be held at the Higher Education Centers as follows:

National City: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 1:00 p.m.

San Ysidro: Thursday, February 4, 2010 8:30 a.m.

Otay Mesa: Friday, February 5, 2010 8:30 a.m.

Accreditation News: Town Hall Meeting Tonight

Late yesterday, Superintendent/President Raj K. Chopra issued a memo announcing that the college has received the much-anticipated report from the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

The college has not yet publicly posted the accreditation report, but a "Town Hall" meeting has been scheduled to discuss the results. The meeting will be held at 5:00 p.m. today on the main campus in Room L238 N&S (across from the library).

In other news, the Governing Board took no action at its recent special meeting to evaluate Chopra. Meanwhile, an online survey (see previous post) has gone out to all faculty.

Stay tuned!