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Community College Audit Finds Too Little Being Spent on Teachers

Education: Six of the 10 districts studied were found to violate a law aimed at holding down the costs of administration, official says.


Six out of 10 California community college districts examined in a state audit were not spending enough on salaries for classroom instructors, in violation of state law, according to state Auditor Elaine M. Howle.

The law requires that at least half the educational expenses in community colleges go to salaries for classroom teachers and aides to ensure that administrative costs don't soar out of control. The law has been invoked in recent years by college faculty unions in arguing for a greater share of state funds.

In a report released Wednesday, auditors said they had examined a year's spending at the 10 districts and found that six had spent too little on instructional salaries in relation to other costs. The six are Allan Hancock, in Santa Maria; Kern; Mt. San Jacinto, in San Jacinto; Peralta, in the Oakland area; West Hills, in Coalinga; and Santa Monica.

Had these districts calculated their budgets correctly, they would have spent a combined $10 million more on instructional salaries, the report estimated.

The auditors added that the mistakes had gone unnoticed by the state community colleges chancellor's office.

"Our main thrust of this is that the chancellor needs to do a better job," said Steve Hendrickson, chief deputy at the Bureau of State Audits.

The report was requested by a legislative committee.

Spending on instructional salaries has been the subject of increasing friction in the college system. Faculty unions argue that the colleges are reducing spending by using too many part-time instructors.

In Santa Monica, the faculty union has filed a lawsuit alleging that the college is spending too little on salaries and relying too heavily on part-timers.

The audit appears to vindicate the union's claims. It said Santa Monica College spends 47.2% of its budget on instructional salaries, less than the 50% required by law.

"The Legislature gives money to colleges for instruction, but districts are finding a way to divert this money," said Teri Bernstein, a Santa Monica instructor active in the faculty union.

But Tom Donner, a Santa Monica College executive vice president, disputed the auditor's accounting methods, which he said led to a flawed conclusion. Donner argued further that the law is outdated and hurts students by discouraging expenditures on such services as guidance counseling.

State Community College Chancellor Thomas Nussbaum said he agreed that enforcement of the law had been weak because his office has lacked resources to monitor compliance. However, he said, a task force will be asked to consider how the colleges should be calculating their costs.

The four districts found in the report to be spending enough on instructional salaries were Contra Costa, in the east San Francisco Bay Area; Los Rios, in Sacramento; San Diego; and South Orange County.

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