Regardless of how the Ventura County Community College District resolves its faculty contract negotiations, teachers say that the dispute, which is nearing the 300-day mark, has already left some demoralizing scars.
Teachers are angered by the district's refusal last month to accept an independent consultant's recommendations of a 6% pay hike. They say it reinforces their perception that administrators are more interested in feathering their own nests than in providing quality instruction.
They claim the administration is bloated with bureaucrats and that the district's board of trustees demonstrates a cavalier attitude toward its own expenses while pinching pennies when it comes to salary increases for teachers.
District officials deny those claims. They call instruction their highest priority and point to six administrative positions that will go unfilled this year so the savings can be applied toward teacher raises.
"Students are No. 1, faculty are second and the rest of us are service personnel to support that process," said Alfred P. Fernandez, chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District.
About 360 full-time faculty members and 800 part-time teachers at Ventura, Moorpark and Oxnard colleges have been working without a contract since July. Faculty members want the 6% annual raise retroactive to July as recommended by the consultant; another salary step for part-time teachers and raises based on years of service. The district has offered 5% retroactive to July.
Salaries for full-time faculty members range from $21,026 to $44,703. The contract is renegotiated yearly.
A state mediator was to have met with negotiators for both sides this morning in an attempt to break the deadlock.
At least one board member appears to agree with some of the teachers' arguments.
"The district does have room to cut management. Given our financial situation, it is over-managed," said Trustee James T. (Tom) Ely, a board member since 1979.
Ely said that two years ago he asked for a study to look at possible cuts or consolidations in management. The study began this February and should be completed in two months, Ely said.
Ely, one of the administration's strongest critics, said that "management doesn't want to study management because it knows that cuts in management will result."
Meanwhile, the union, Local 1828 of the American Federation of Teachers, has staged a slowdown. Faculty members have stopped attending committee meetings, coming in early to confer with students, supervising extracurricular activities or performing any of the other duties outside of classroom instruction.
The negotiations have been further inflamed by a union report claiming that the Ventura district surpasses other districts both in the size and the salaries of its administrative staff.
Compiled by Moorpark College biology instructor Larry Miller, a union negotiator, the report concludes that district administrative salaries rank fifth among the 20 multicollege districts statewide while faculty salaries lag at 13th. Miller also claims that the district spends 26.8% of its budget on administration while the state average is 21.8%.
"They take what they want, and we get what's left over," Miller said.
District officials say the union report fails to paint a complete picture. They have countered with their own set of figures that attempts to show the administration comparing favorably with similar-sized districts.
According to a report by the chancellor's office of the California Community Colleges in Sacramento, the Ventura district has 57 employees in executive administrative positions. The Los Rios district has 77 such employees; the Contra Costa district has 61 and the San Mateo district has 52. All four districts have three campuses.
Statewide, the average salary for certificated administrators--those with teaching credentials--is $54,452, according to the state report. While Ventura comes in high at $57,659 when compared with the Los Rios district at $52,823, it is commensurate with Contra Costa at $56,972 and San Mateo at $56,793.
The Ventura district "is certainly within the range," said a research analyst with the state chancellor's office.
But spokesmen for the union and the district said they remain skeptical of each other's conclusions, and both sides noted that the same figures could be interpreted in conflicting ways.
Teachers, however, contend that the salary debate is symptomatic of a larger problem--a demoralizing mixture of arrogance and incompetence on the part of the board of trustees. But some say they are afraid to criticize the board publicly.
"What we have here is an old boy's club," said one faculty member who refused to give her name.