Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley at Tuesday night's Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees meeting. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
Less than two weeks after reports surfaced that Long Beach Community College District Superintendent President Eloy Oakley was entertaining offers to leave his post at Long Beach City College, the LBCCD Board of Trustees voted to extend his contract by another two years last night, pushing the end of Oakley’s term to February 2019.
“I know that there has been much discussed and written about whether I'm staying or going,” Oakley said. “I think much of that has been a bit dramatic in the papers. I plan to continue to serve Long Beach City College.”
Last month, the Press-Telegram reported that in light of disruptive actions by the school’s governing body, Oakley was actively entertaining the idea of leaving LBCC, having entered into negotiations with the Coast Community College District to become chancellor of its three schools. The next day, the paper reported that Oakley had cut off talks with the district, citing a desire to remain in Long Beach.
The motion to extend the superintendent-president’s contract passed with a 4-1 vote Tuesday night, with Trustee Sunny Zia, an outspoken critic of the board’s transparency—or lack thereof—since her election last year, as the lone dissenting vote.
She was not alone in her disapproval.
A small group of faculty members attended the board meeting to comment on the pending contract extension, expressing concern that the financial future of Oakley was being squared away while the college’s graduation numbers flounder, vast wage disparities exist between pay at LBCC and other area colleges and the financial security of the people who keep the college running—the faculty—is in limbo.
At the State of the College address Oakley delivered in February, it was shown that the school’s two-year completion rate hovered somewhere around five percent, and that on average, it took more than six years for a student to advance through the two-year college.
Cindy Frye, Membership Chair of LBCC Certificated Hourly Instructors (LBCCCHI), asked if it was fair that Oakley's contract be extended for an additional two years when faculty have to reapply for teaching positions—their jobs—each semester. Frye pointed out that teachers at El Camino College ($97/hour), Cerritos College ($67/hour) and the South Coast Community College District ($70/hour) all make more than teachers at LBCC, who just received a small raise to bump them to $64/hour. The disparity has led to morale issues, which were recently investigated by an accreditation commission, a topic that needs to be addressed for the college to move forward, according to Frye.
“Extending Superintendent President Oakley’s contract seems to be distracting from other issues plaguing the college such as chronic low morale with part-time faculty, ongoing communication problems noted by the accreditation commission and negotiations between the part time faculty and the district to address the disparity facing our part time faculty every day on the campus,” Frye said.
The notion that such issues exist on campus was rejected by Oakley last month when the school's re-accreditation process was held up by a Board member, presumed to be Zia, telling the state's evaluation team that morale among school faculty was low.
Oakley cited this "disruptive" behavior from the Board member as a contributing factor toward his consideration of offers from the Coast Community College District. The accreditation report presented to the board Tuesday night stated that while morale issues did exist on campus in 2002 and 2008, they have since been resolved.
Frye said she was there to represent LBCCCHI as other representatives from the group were busy working other jobs or applying for employment elsewhere in an effort to “cobble together a full-time salary,” as LBCC falls further behind on the pay-scale as the lowest-paying community college district in the State.
“We are the majority workforce at this college and most community colleges nationwide but we don’t have parity pay, or comparable pay or job security and I really don’t think I have to say it, but, what’s wrong with this picture?” Frye asked.
Ruben Amador, a library systems technician at LBCC, expanded on how the wages and the scaling back of hours have created a human toll. Just over three years ago Amador was reduced from faculty hours and cut from a full year’s pay to just 10 months, which resulted in a 38% reduction to his income. His daughter, who was nearing graduation at Cal State Long Beach, took a semester off to get a job and help Amador pay bills.
“Needless to say, the impact to me was very, very great,” Amador said. “The actual reality of the impact didn’t set in until I actually had to call the unemployment office at the time, and try to collect a supplemental check that was going to help me in that month that I wasn’t going to collect anything. I’ve got to tell you, not only is dealing with those people one of the worst things in the world[…]. It wasn’t until I sat down with someone who took time to look at my case and ran the numbers and said something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. She said 'Mr. Amador, you qualify for food stamps. Would you like me to send you some?'”
President of the Long Beach Council of Classified Employees Thomas Hamilton laid out a roadmap of staff cut-backs, the taking on of furlough days to alleviate funding shortages, program discontinuations and the general bearing of the 2012 $5.3 million budget deficit by faculty with the promise that when times got better, they would be taken care of. Classified faculty haven’t received a salary increase since 2008 Hamilton noted, and are now at day number 154—and counting—without a contract.
“The classified employees stood up, took the hit and responded with taking care of 5 million of that deficit,” Hamilton said. “It required people to be laid off. People got reductions in hours, employees went from 12 months to 10 months, full-time to fifty percent. Now, the district has said we would be taken care of when times got better. Well, times got better, but not for classified.”
Oakley’s current contract paid him a base salary of $264,348 starting in July 2013, with an annual increase of up to 4% which resets the base salary for future raises. According to Transparent California, a website dedicated to providing salary figures for public employees in the state, when accounting for benefits and other pay, that figure climbed to over $350,000 in 2013.
The contract’s “other pay”—referred to as “fringe benefits”—provides Oakley with a number of perks including contributions to his retirement plan (8% annually) from the college, paid leave for the pursuit of an advanced degree, up to 37 additional paid days off during a given calendar year and reimbursement of expenses.
Section 9 of the contract, which covers said expenses, stipulates that the district shall reimburse Oakley for up to $7,500 annually for expenses incurred while performing his duties, and Section 10 allots him an allowance of 2,500 miles per month paid at the prevailing Internal Revenue Service rate. According to the IRS website, the 2015 rate is 57.5 cents per mile, which adds up to $1,437.50 a month in payments for mileage.
Including all past raises, which Board of Trustee President Jeff Kellogg said only occurred once in the form of a 2% raise last year, and a totaling of all “fringe benefits,” Oakley’s actual base-salary comes in at $320,568 annually, the number at which the trustees voted to extend the contract.
The decision to extend Oakley's contract comes just weeks after the revelation of his overtures toward other districts, but over two years before his current contract was set to expire. Kellogg explained that the motion was made in part symbolically, so that the current members of the board had an opportunity to approve a contract for Oakley.
“This gives the opportunity to this board, who in all fairness haven’t really had an official vote on the CEO, the superintendent-president, so for all the other issues involved this is the first time that this sitting board has an opportunity to vote on a contract for President Oakley,” Kellogg said. “Whether or not you think that’s important, I personally do. It puts people on record.”
He also said that there were some language changes in the contract that clarified and made less confusing the topic of mileage and contributions to retirement funds. Instead of being listed as a “fringe benefit” and not accounted for in the base-salary, they are now both included in the base salary figure.
There were questions of the legality of the move, given the wording of California Education Code section 72411(a), which stipulates a service term of four years, with some critics, including Zia, viewing the extension as equivalent to allowing Oakley a six-year-term. Spencer Covert, a lawyer representing the board during the negotiation process, quickly dismissed the notion of any kind of wrongdoing in the board’s action to extend Oakley.
“This is an extension of the term of the current contract for two years,” Covert said. “We have to look at where we are in the contract, not where we were.”
Zia pushed for the terms of the new agreement to be discussed openly before the board adjourned to closed session, asking what good an opinion was if it comes after an approval, but was met with resistance. Covert pointed out that the contract isn’t a public works contract, it’s not subject to bidding and therefore isn’t subject to public scrutiny prior to a vote. Trustee Vice President Doug Otto stated his opinion more bluntly.
“The general public is not a party to those negotiations,” Otto said. “Once the contract is completed and adopted then there are plenty of opportunities to comment, but it’s not a free-for-all.”
Earlier in the evening, Dr. Lynn Shaw, president of the LBCC Community College Association, an affiliate of the California Teachers Association, touched on the lack of discussion, calling the move to extend Oakley a knee-jerk reaction to the reports of other districts courting him.
“The full-time faculty object to this kind of lock-step leadership and intimidation that squashes any discussion, debate or dissent,” Shaw said. “CCA supports transparency and questioning. If we continue to keep things behind closed doors, we will never solve the extreme low morale problem on campus. I know I am speaking for the entire full-time faculty when I say we want more transparency and authentic communication.”