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Compton College Takeover Backed

The board of the state community colleges endorses intervention at the financially troubled campus by their chancellor.

June 15, 2004|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Facing a legal challenge to last month's state takeover of Compton College, California's community college chancellor was given more formal backing Monday for his intervention at the financially ailing school.

In a special teleconference meeting, the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges unanimously adopted an emergency regulation that detailed and reinforced the power of state Chancellor Mark Drummond to appoint a state trustee over Compton College and control spending at the campus.

"Our real purpose in broadest terms is to protect the students and faculty and staff of Compton College, and the reason that we came in in the first place is that there were issues that were not being solved locally," said Cathy Unger, president of the statewide board that oversees 72 community college districts in the state.

On May 21, Drummond appointed a special trustee at Compton to oversee the district, effectively taking over the 7,000-student college and stripping power from the locally elected Board of Trustees.

But a week later, Compton district officials successfully argued before a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge for a temporary restraining order against Drummond's appointment of Special Trustee Arthur Tyler. Judge Dzintra Janavs issued an order that reinstated the Board of Trustees and set a full hearing for June 21.

The Compton Community College District has been under scrutiny for fiscal mismanagement since last fall, when the district failed to turn in a satisfactory audit to state officials that explained how an expected budget surplus of $2.2 million for the 2002-03 year had become a shortfall of more than $300,000.

Frederick E. Harris, state assistant vice chancellor for college finance, told the Board of Governors on Monday that the Compton district had yet to turn in the requested audit. In opposition papers filed last week in court, Harris said the district's current fiscal plan "significantly degenerates into unrealistic, unexplained and illogical proposals."

"It should be noted that Compton Community College District is the only California community college district that provides each of its five trustees with a $30,000 car (with leather interior and a 10-pack CD player in the trunk), and one or more board assistants each per board member," Harris' filing said.

The Times reported last year on a history of such costly perks and questionable contracts paid for by college officials with taxpayer dollars.

In earlier papers submitted to the court this month, Harris said the U.S. attorney's office and a federal grand jury are examining the district for alleged corruption. Harris offered no details about that investigation, and a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said he could not confirm nor deny an investigation.

Through a spokesman, the Compton trustees declined to comment. But their lawyer, Barry Green, said the district was prepared to challenge the state's takeover on the grounds that it was illegally enacted and disenfranchised Compton voters.

Green called the resolution adopted Monday by the Board of Governors suspect because it retroactively singled out Compton.

"We are disappointed that the chancellor would seek to pass after-the-fact regulations authorizing a takeover of the college," Green said. "We believe the action is illegal, and we are hopeful that the court will disapprove of it."

The resolution adopted by the state board Monday took effect immediately and will last 120 days. Before it expires, the panel expects to draft and adopt a permanent policy that would cover similar financial emergencies at all the community colleges in the state, said Cheryl Fong, a spokeswoman for Drummond.

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