Voting against bond is unpleasant

A wealthy district with a huge capital reserve in recent years ($23 million in 2008), the college has never lacked for funds to build a student center, a terrific theater complex, a beautiful library, and other improvements over the years.John MacDonald, the founding president, always said he wanted the staff salary schedule to remain around the 80th percentile of community colleges in the state so he would have the funds necessary to build out the campus without going to the taxpayers for a bond.

After MacDonald retired to become an Oceanside councilman, and later a county supervisor, his immediate successors abandoned that goal. A smart, aggressive faculty senate (that functions like a well-oiled union), eyeing that flood of tax revenue each year in the wealthy district, set out to lobby successive college boards of trustees and two sympathetic presidents. By 2004, the faculty wound up with the highest salaries in the California system (112 colleges) and among the top three highest community college faculty salaries in the nation.

For example, the top annual salary at MiraCosta is $142,000. The comparable salary for a teacher of equal education and experience at Palomar College is $111,000. San Diego City college salaries rank with Palomar’s. The salaries at Cal State San Marcos and UCSD are below those at MiraCosta where the current average salary is $122,000.

Consider that 35 to 40 percent of classes at MiraCosta are remedial high school level classes, many similar to classes at continuation high schools, and you get some sense of the situation. Also, a physical education teacher or a bilingual ESL teacher there can easily earn with seniority $120,000 a year. On top of that, they teach fifteen hours a week unlike high school teachers who teach 25.

Worse, a majority of the MiraCosta staff has arranged their schedules so they teach three or four days a week. Three-day faculty weekends at “MiraCozy” are a tradition, making the campus on Fridays a ghost town.

Consider that the outstanding high school teachers at Torrey Pines, San Dieguito, Carlsbad, El Camino and other schools who teach physics, chemistry, English literature, calculus and other college-level classes in Advanced Placement programs rarely earn over $95,000 annually. They prepare their students for Ivy League schools, Stanford, and the UC system at a far higher rate than community colleges.

With property tax assessments down, MiraCosta has been forced to dip into their cash reserves for operations, and now they want half a billion (notice the “b”) dollars in bond money. What will this cost the taxpayers to repay the debt? At least a billion dollars including interest!

Residents of Del Mar are looking at a total of three bond issues on the ballot while the rest of the San Dieguito area faces two bonds totaling over $900 million. In Del Mar the three bond amounts exceed one billion dollars. A minimum of two billion dollars including interest would be necessary to retire the debts. In Encinitas, Solana Beach, Rancho Santa Fe, and Leucadia, the two bonds will cost at least $1.8 billion to repay (and probably more).

Two members of the “blue ribbon” committee in Oceanside that was organized to consider the MiraCosta bond issue recommended that the college go for smaller amount. But the majority said, “Let’s go for it all.”

The Oceanside school district this past year completely rebuilt a junior high school for $20 million and added a large multi-purpose building . Would new laboratory classrooms cost much more than that at MiraCosta?

Some wise man once said, “Everything in moderation.” A no vote will send the right message to the MiraCosta board (and the faculty). Next time, just ask for $50 million, and develop a second-tier salary schedule for new hires.

Students upset at the lack of classroom space need not point their fingers at the taxpayer. They simply should confront the staff and faculty of this wealthy district who are robbing them of facilities, a balanced schedule that makes use of Fridays and Saturdays, and expanded course offerings.

Jim Downs is an Oceanside resident.

 

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