If I had to summarize my concerns regarding the current administration of WCC, the list would have to include (in no particular order):
- Voter avoidance for construction projects that have questionable academic value
- Use of operating funds for debt payments
- The issuance of a multi-million dollar no bid contract
- The cost of remedying building neglect
- The alarming increase in the size of the WCC administration since FY 2012
- The pursuit of risky revenue streams
- The deliberate misrepresentation of the size of WCC’s state appropriation and population growth projections in Washtenaw County
- Funding WCC’s construction loans using student fees
- The cost of maintaining and operating the Health and Fitness Center
- The proposal to build a hotel and convention center on campus
All of these things have a common thread: they all relate directly to Board decisions about how to spend the money. It’s really up to the Trustees to look out for the taxpaying public. It is the Board’s job to exercise oversight of the College’s finances, and to approve or reject spending requests.
In a 2014 MLive article regarding the faculty’s vote-of-no-confidence in WCC president Rose Bellanca, Trustee Richard Landau made the following statement:
“The board is by law required to scrutinize [financial] requests. The president explains them to us. There is no subterfuge,” he continued. “It’s our job to spend the money of the community college and we take that very seriously.”
How does the WCC Board spend the money?
The Board scrutinized the Administration’s request to build new buildings. The WCC President recently explained that the “Advanced Transportation Center” is just a name. The building is meant to house non-credit classes and provide event space. (Much like the Morris Lawrence Building – only somehow different.) The Board’s scrutiny of this financial request resulted in Board approval to borrow money to build a “classroom” building that has few classrooms and no faculty offices. Only one Board member had the guts to call this thing out for what it is.
The Board scrutinized the Administration’s request to borrow against the College’s General Fund. This puts the county taxpayers at an increased risk, should WCC ever default on its self-backed bond debts. The alternative would be to seek a special tax that will provide a separate revenue stream to pay WCC’s bond debt. It would preserve the College’s operating funds for – you know- operating expenses. In the past, this was the way the College financed construction. The result of this scrutiny was that certain Trustees advocated for shopping off the College’s construction loans to the students to avoid arousing the voters and/or to prevent their own personal tax bills from going up.
The Board scrutinized the Administration’s request to issue a $26M no-bid contract that eliminated 31 full-time jobs at the College. The College administration quietly worked on the plan to outsource IT for at least two years, despite public assurances that they were not considering this. The College Administration worked directly and exclusively with only one vendor for what amounts to common services. The result of Board scrutiny? No problems found!
Occasionally, the WCC Board “saves” money, too
The Board scrutinized the Administration’s plan to “save” money by not conducting required building maintenance. The result of the plan is that 50%-70% of the College’s planned capital spending in the next four fiscal years will be to correct neglect issues that could have been corrected much less expensively had they only been addressed earlier. The result of this scrutiny is borrowing more money against the general fund to address the astounding costs of building neglect.
The Board scrutinized the 32% increase in the size of the Administrative group since Rose Bellanca arrived. In comparison, the size of the faculty has increased by 1% during the same time period. The size of the Custodial and Maintenance group has decreased by 10.7% and the size of the clerical staff has decreased by 14.8%. Just so I’m being clear, the size of the administration grew by 57 people, while the Fall enrollment has dropped by 4.6% since Rose Bellanca showed up. The result of this scrutiny is that the Board has approved the administrative hiring spree without comment.
I could go on, but you get the point. “Board scrutiny” currently consists of the Administration making a financial request and “explaining things” to the Board. Then the Board signs off on whatever the request is.
In other words, there is no Board oversight taking place at WCC.
As Richard Landau put it – “It’s our job to spend the money of the community college and we take that very seriously.”
From the looks of it, they certainly do.
Photo Credit: 401(k) 2012, via Flickr.com