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Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake. Courtesy photo
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Palomar College president discusses financial challenges, tension with faculty

SAN MARCOS — In an 80-minute Dec. 11 interview with The Coast News, Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake discussed the “high risk” of fiscal insolvency faced by the college, live-streaming of Governing Board meetings, tense relations with faculty and staff, as well as her vision for righting the economic ship at the community college.

A potential part of that vision: cutting back benefits for full-time employees and streamlining some of the ways the college currently does business technologically speaking. But Blake also said that the college, and California community colleges generally, are starved for state budgetary money.

Palomar College’s deficit currently sits at $12 million, according to the California Fiscal Crisis Management & Assistance Team (FCMAT). On Nov. 12, the FCMAT investigator who determined the “high risk” status presented a report to the Board of Governors concluding that “At the current pace, salary and benefit costs will consume 100% of the unrestricted general fund revenues in three years.”

Blake said that, in response to FCMAT’s findings, she has cleared her schedule to work full time on an action plan aimed at cutting the college’s deficit. And she said that the college will present that action plan, under state mandate, to the 17-person California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Board of Governors at its upcoming January meeting.

“So, I’ve been working with the state Chancellor’s Office,” Blake said of the process “I’ve been working with our accrediting body to keep them apprised of what we’re doing.”

Accompanying Blake in Sacramento for that meeting will be Nancy Ann Hensch, the chair of the Governing Board. So too will be Stephen Garcia, the dean of finance. Blake said that before she heads to Sacramento with Hensch and Garcia, she will present the action plan to the Palomar College Governing Board at its January meeting.

“So basically, (the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Board of Governors) will decide our next steps and what we’re gonna do,” she said of what looms at the Sacramento meeting. “They’ll ask us a lot of questions. ‘And what are you guys going to do to change it? How are you going to make sure it doesn’t happen again? Do you have campus buy-in?’”

At the same meeting at which FCMAT informed the Board of Governors of the issues that the college faces, a Palomar College faculty member presented the board with of a “no confidence” vote that faculty members had taken in previous weeks. Blake maintained that she was not surprised by the development.

“If you haven’t paid for your benefits for 20 years, and now you may have to share it,” she said. “We’re used to getting cost of living adjustment (COLA) pay increases every year. Now, you may not get COLA. You’re used to getting a raise every year. You know, you start thinking about those kinds of things. Those are upsetting.”

Blake said that, as it stands now, 96% of the college’s budget goes toward salaries and benefits. It’s an amount she says is too high.

But she also said that the college, and all San Diego County community colleges, will also be pushing for more state funding. In her view, community colleges should get double what they get now to keep pace with what both the California State University System and the University of California System receive.

“In San Diego, we’re unique because we have the San Diego and Imperial County Community College Association,” said Blake, who serves on the legislative advisory committee for the consortium. “And so, we’ll go up to Sacramento because they’ll be in session. So, we’ll be advocating for certain bills going through.”

In another piece of news for the college’s Governing Board, those following Governing Board meetings now have a new option to watch them live and online. Faculty members and some Board of Governors members had requested that the college do so for months. In doing so, they had pointed to the enormous geographic size of the community college’s district and a need to accommodate for those who are hard of hearing.

Blake said the meetings will only have one camera set up in the corner of the room and that the lighting in the room is not ideal due to its age. She also said that this means that the meetings will not be closed captioned live, one of the demands from faculty members. The college, Blake added, will not pay for the service and it will be provided in-house by Palomar Television.

“Trustee Hensch, she and I talked about it and we said, ‘What we want to do?’ People want us to do it. They rigged up something last month,” Blake said in reference to the streaming system some faculty members set up to air the meeting themselves at the November meeting. “It was just, ‘OK, here we go.’ And I think it was a more of the quality, you know, versus just it looking like your grandmother (filmed it). Because we are a professional organization.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor for the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, will address the Palomar College Board of Governors at its next meeting at 5 p.m. Dec. 17.