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The $5-Million Fiasco

The Los Angeles Community College District has pulled precisely the kind of stunt that gives the colleges a bad name with legislators in Sacramento. Last fall the college trustees granted teachers a 6% pay increase despite warnings that they wouldn’t have enough money by the end of the year. Sure enough, the trustees have now had to borrow $5 million from the county in order to pay several thousand non-teaching employees. Worse, they kept quiet about their financial problems until after the city runoff election in which two of their number were running.

Such a maneuver does not inspire confidence that the board and college officials are managing competently what money they have, let alone that they should be given more to manage. The community colleges are in fact critically short of funds because of past budget squeezes, and they do need more money, so the trustees have only made a tough situation tougher.

This fiasco gives rise to two additional thoughts:

First, the trustees are about to appoint a replacement for Rick Tuttle, who was elected city controller. They should name someone willing to ask college administrators the tough questions that obviously need asking, and willing to say no when the answers aren’t satisfactory.

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Second, there is the matter of the people remaining on the board. There are some good people, but lately their lack of vigor, their acceptance of staff recommendations, has created public indifference about the trustees and the colleges that they run--a critical part of the state’s higher-education system.

The trustees and the public would have been better served this last time out by stiffer challenges from credible candidates of some educational or political substance. The incumbents were better than the challengers, so the voters had no choice. Political competition is a healthy thing. It makes officeholders work harder, both to serve the colleges and to stay in office. It wouldn’t surprise us if some smart, ambitious, energetic and capable person out there read the stories about the $5-million mess and started drawing up campaign plans. We hope so.


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