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College districts need to put education first, jobs second
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Just 36.4 miles separate Delta College and Modesto Junior College.
They both offer similar courses. Both have had to clamp down on enrollment and raise fees. But were all of the fee hikes and class caps necessary?
The simple answer is no.
That’s because the fantasy known as “local control” takes precedent over education. San Joaquin Delta Community College District and Yosemite Community College District could easily be operated under one board and one administrative structure. They serve regions that have similar characteristics and needs. There is no reason for two boards, two presidents, and a duplicate set of other administrative heads.
Combine the two districts and save money by eliminating duplication. Put the savings toward offering more class sections. Community colleges exist to educate first and foremost. Their top priority isn’t as an employment center.
But a larger system overseeing means bigger paychecks at the top, right? After all, that’s how it works in the business world.
That’s the argument that government sector brass always give when it comes to consolidating operations. They also argue that with more people under them they need more deputy chiefs so therefore the head chief has more responsibility and deserves more compensation.
Ever notice, though, the ways of the private sector only applies when it comes to compensation and not operations?
For the past six years, the private sector has been looking for ways to trim costs to stay afloat. They have consolidated operations, eliminated positions, rethought responsibilities, and generally found ways to keep the doors open.
That hasn’t been the case with many levels of government especially in the University of California, California State University, and California Community College systems. There have been instances of brass getting salary raises while the people who do the real work — teaching — get hours and pay cut. There is also duplication of missions, failure to provide seamless transitions for students in terms of credit and study, and a resistance to structural changes on how to educate students.
Higher education still clings to models dating back to the 1950s. Even its ventures into online education are tepid at best.
As for local control, get real. This isn’t kindergarten through 12th grade education. You are educating adults not kids. Parent and community standards are less of an issue. The goal is to provide skills that can help adult students get jobs or move on for additional education and/or training.
Besides, if local control is so important can you name three board members on the Yosemite Community College District board? Can you even name your representative? Better yet what type of interaction with the community do board members do to understand what the “locals” want? There is none.
But trustees collect stipends and in many cases health benefits.
California Watch looked at the state’s 72 community college districts and noted many districts could easily be clustered. Looking at 16 districts alone, in term of executives and top managers while excluding presidents and chancellors the watchdog group tabulated 253 management positions that cost $30 million in salaries and $7.9 million in benefits during 2011.
If half of those positions could be eliminated, it would save $37.9 million. Some 3,600 additional class sections could be taught.
So what’s more important — creating high paying jobs and protecting fiefdoms or educating people?
Those protecting the status quo certainly aren’t as gung-ho about putting education first as they claim.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.