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Compton College Put on Probation : Education: Officials claim institution needs tighter fiscal control and more administrative stability before it can receive accreditation.

July 21, 1994|JILL GOTTESMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Education officials have placed Compton Community College on probation, jeopardizing the troubled institution's accreditation and its chances for public funding.

College administrators were notified recently by the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges in Northern California that the institution lacked fiscal controls and needed more administrative stability before it could be accredited again.

The findings were made during a series of visits to the campus by association representatives last year and will delay the college's accreditation renewal until the problems are resolved, said John Peterson, the association's executive director.

College administrators have until January--when the accreditation commission meets again--to show improvement, he said. An interim report outlining how college administrators plan to resolve the problems is due next month, he said.

Among other things, accreditation team members reported that the college had not yet instituted the fiscal procedures recommended by the association last year. Recommendations included imposing tighter controls on the hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds the college receives each year.

A "climate of antagonism and factionalism" was also found on the campus, Peterson said.

"The college still has very serious problems, especially the relationship between the governing board and (President Byron Skinner)," he said.

Although the board voted unanimously last year to hire Skinner, the relationship between him and some board members has been fractious, campus sources said. Many believe Skinner has not acted quickly enough in making hiring decisions, said one instructor who asked not to be identified.

Skinner said, however, the disagreements between him and some board members is not unusual.

"There has been a lot of strain and we have had some difficult times, but we are starting to reach an accord," he said.

Peterson said the accreditation team was satisfied with the quality of instruction on the campus. "They have wonderful students and a great faculty," he said.

The western association evaluates and accredits more than 150 two-year colleges in California and Hawaii. Member colleges are evaluated every six years.

This is the first time Compton College has been put on probation since it was accredited in 1952, Peterson said. Compton was one of four campuses put on notice this year, he said.

The action culminates nearly two years of administrative and financial scandals that began with a 1992 Department of Education report 1992 that uncovered questionable expenditures of public funds at the college.

The report led to an audit showing college officials had misspent nearly $500,000 in grants intended for low-income students, had hired relatives to work at inflated salaries and did not use sound accounting methods to keep track of the funds. Several key administrators were dismissed or demoted after the audit was released. Former President Warren A. Washington was removed from his job and is now an instructor on campus.

College officials expressed dismay over the probation, which Peterson said could threaten future funding from the state and federal government. Public funds provide nearly 80% of the college's operating budget.

The association issues an annual report to funding agencies, listing which colleges have been placed on probation, Peterson said.

Skinner, who took over in November, said he is working with board members to solve the problems. He has hired two vice presidents, one to direct academic affairs and the other for business affairs. Both are expected to arrive in August, he said.

Board member Kent Swift said he is sure the college's accreditation would be renewed in January, but said he was concerned that the probation status might affect future funding.

Meanwhile, college officials are negotiating with federal education officials who are asking for at least a partial repayment of the $500,000 they believe was misspent at the college from 1989 to 1991.

Skinner said he has assigned an administrator to re-examine the 1992 audit that confirmed many of the Education Department's allegations that funds were misused.

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