North County Report: High Drama at Palomar College - Voice of San Diego

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North County Report: High Drama at Palomar College

Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher announces she’ll run for a new seat, new projects are coming to San Marcos and Oceanside and the latest in alpaca fashion.

Faculty and students attend the Palomar College board meeting on Nov. 12. / Photo by Kayla Jimenez

Palomar College faculty gave President Joi Lin Blake a “no confidence” vote earlier this month. This week, Blake said she knows why.

During an overcrowded and dramatic board meeting Tuesday night, the college’s faculty senate called for Blake’s removal, following a state agency’s presentation revealing the college is headed toward a fiscal crisis.

Craig Thompson, president of the Palomar College Faculty Senate, presented a resolution approved on Nov. 4 on behalf of the college’s faculty expressing deep concerns about Blake’s leadership based on what they say is her inability or unwillingness to maintain a fiscally responsible budget, consistently follow shared governance policies, work collaboratively on faculty hiring processes and retain talented and diverse administrators.

Blake attempted to flip that characterization on its head, and suggested faculty members are upset because she’s doing things differently.

“I understand why you don’t have confidence in my leadership because folks, you know what, there’s a new status normal now,” Blake said. “We cannot maintain the status quo. The status quo has gotten us to where we are now – on the brink of insolvency.”

Julie Lanthier Bandy, a spokeswoman for the district, said Blake invited the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team to evaluate the district’s fiscal health when acting superintendent and vice president of finance administrative services Stephen Garcia and Blake found some serious financial concerns.

Michelle Giacomini, an executive director at the agency, said Tuesday night that the district is running out of time before it becomes fiscally insolvent.

“I really have to be honest that I hope that I don’t come back uninvited,” Giacomini said.

The FCMAT report revealed that the district has a high probability of reaching fiscal insolvency if it continues current spending patterns. If the district resumes its spending at its current pace, the district will be forced to borrow $6.5 million from an external source in just two years.

The report illuminated that a whopping 96.2 percent of spending goes toward faculty, staff and administration salary and benefits. In three years, it could be 100 percent.

“Evaluating the management’s right of assignment, health and welfare benefit costs, and the entire salary schedule, should be a high priority,” the report reads. “The goal is to not only eliminate the fiscal deficit, which is almost $12,000,000.00 this year, but also to improve the district’s overall operation and long-term stability.

Bandy said the recommendations will be the foundation for a fiscal stability plan.

Blake said she’s had to make difficult financial decisions since she was appointed president in 2016.

Palomar College President Joi Lin Blake attends a Palomar College board meeting on Nov. 12. / Photo by Kayla Jimenez

“The board has directed me to stabilize the budget and the institution. As I’ve shared on many occasions and many forums, it’s not that I’m a hard person or my team’s a hard person, we’re just in a hard place,” Blake said. “There’s been deficit spending for years. It didn’t just happen in 2016.”

Blake wrote in an official statement last week that she was appointed to her role in June 2016 with explicit goals to “improve the fiscal health of the college, increase enrollment, address diversity among faculty and work with the Palomar College Foundation to improve fundraising efforts to better support our student success initiatives.”

But faculty members questioned whether certain decisions by Blake made things even worse financially – including opening two new campus centers in Rancho Bernardo and Fallbrook, and Blake’s own $1 million office suite inside the college’s new library.

The college’s classified employee council passed its own resolution recommending Blake’s removal.

“Our union endorsed the appointment of Dr. Blake as Superintendent/President of Palomar College,” Anel Gonzalez, president of the council, said Tuesday night. “However, over the past three years, Dr. Blake has engaged in numerous management practices that have negatively impacted staff, students and the community.”

The report calls attention to the council’s concerns: high leadership turnover in leadership, lack of leadership, due diligence and accountability and authoritarian and undemocratic management.

Two faculty members told VOSD prior to the meeting that they are deeply concerned with Blake’s fiscal management and treatment of employees. Three administrative vice presidents have left the district under Blake’s leadership.

“No one is prepared to have these conversations while she’s still president because of her dishonesty and autocratic style of governing,” said Rocco Versaci, a member of the English department faculty.

Shannon Lienhart, a faculty member in the math department, expressed concern that students will facing the financial repercussions of the leadership’s spending.

“The biggest problem with her leadership is in terms of money and making us insolvent,” she said. “There’s an impact on the community of students who want to go to Palomar because where there’s huge money problems, we’re cutting programs.”

Lienhart says the district’s financial turmoil is a catastrophe for North County.

“We’re a big institution. We’re a big player in North County and for us to be run into the ground like this is devastating for our students,” she said.

Versaci and Lienhart, like other speakers Tuesday night, said the board’s neglect in responding to requests to move the meeting to a larger venue to accommodate more staff, faculty and student concerned them.

Following the meeting, Blake released a statement: “It makes sense to me that our faculty and staff are concerned that their future salary increases and fully paid benefit plan will be impacted by forthcoming decisions of the Governing Board. Our response to the Fiscal Health Analysis Report will result in a paradigm shift for this institution that serves over 30,000 students in this region.”

It is up to the governing board now to decide what to do with the faculty’s resolution, Bandy said.

Cori Schumacher Is Running for a Different Seat

Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher announced Tuesday she will run in the special election on March 3 to fill the District 1 Council vacancy.

The decision helps explain why Schumacher recused herself from a vote to appoint someone to fill the vacancy opened when Barbara Hamilton resigned from the Council.

The Council opted for a special election after residents circulated a petition opposing an appointment. Now Schumacher is running in that special election.

Schumacher currently occupies an at-large Council seat. The District 1 seat could be easier for her to hold onto.

“Serving the people of Carlsbad has been the honor of my life,” Schumacher wrote in a statement this week. “I have fought to make City Hall better reflect the values of the diverse communities that call our neighborhoods home. Together, we’ve increased public safety, reformed out-of-date policies and procedures, approved projects to provide housing for our homeless veterans, developed a model homeless response plan, and put more protections in place for our environment.”

Hamilton resigned from the Council in October after serving one year.

Now, voters will decide in March whether Schumacher will take that seat. Other candidates interested in running have until Dec. 6 to file nomination papers with the Carlsbad city clerk’s office.

What We’re Working on

On this week’s San Diego Explained, Jesse Marx and NBC 7’s Catherine Garcia discuss why Encinitas is taking its residents to court. Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear called it a “fair and informative three-minute television story about the housing suit,” in her newsletter over the weekend.

In Other North County News

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