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Ventura County

Community College Enrollment Up 4%

Education: Officials are relieved that spending scandal appears to be no deterrent for students.

September 10, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Total enrollment at Ventura County's three community colleges jumped 4% this year, indicating that a widely publicized spending scandal involving the district's top administrator hasn't affected students' desire to attend the campuses, acting Chancellor Jim Walker said Monday.

Newly compiled figures show a combined enrollment of 35,904, up from 34,686 last year. Enrollment at Moorpark College is up 4.98%, Oxnard 1.09% and Ventura 5.38%.

"We believe we do a lot of really good things, and we want to take this opportunity to brag about the great job the three colleges in this district do," Walker said at a news conference at the district's headquarters in Camarillo.

Meanwhile, the number of full-time students--those taking a course load of 12 hours or more--attending the three campuses is 10,689, a 6.3% increase over last year. State and federal money is awarded to the district based on full-time enrollment.

The increase in students is welcome news to a college system that has been mired for months in controversy surrounding the spending practices of Chancellor Philip Westin.

Walker said an investigation is continuing into allegations of misappropriation of public funds and malfeasance by Westin and other officials, outlined in a class-action lawsuit filed in July on behalf of county taxpayers. Westin, who continues to collect his $203,000 annual salary, has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Walker said it is unclear when the probe will be completed, despite continuing pressure and protests from the public and faculty members calling for Westin's resignation.

Revelations that Westin spent $119,000 between 1998 and 2001 on such things as meals, computers and car repairs surfaced last spring as the school year was ending. He was placed on administrative leave in July, when school was out of session.

Since then, Westin has threatened to file a lawsuit against the district if the five-member board of trustees doesn't act quickly on his future. Board members have said they will take as long as they need to complete their probe.

The trustees also have come under fire for failing to rein in Westin's spending during his six-year tenure. An earlier audit and review showed that the chancellor did not violate district policy or break any laws.

Trustee Art Hernandez, who recommended earlier this year that Westin receive a $30,000 raise, and trustee John Tallman, a longtime Westin foe, are up for reelection in November. Board President Norm Nagel has bowed out of the race.

While the specter of lawsuits and investigations hovers in the background, Walker said the business of the college district is moving forward. The district will present a balanced budget to the board of trustees next week with no classroom or staff reductions.

The district also has sold its first issue of bonds recently in a total $365-million package approved by voters in March. The money will be used to upgrade and expand the three aging campuses to handle future growth. This year's rise in enrollment marks the eighth year of enrollment increases, Walker said.

Moorpark College President Eva Conrad noted that her campus has reached its capacity of 15,000 students but retains a lot of vacant land that could be developed.

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