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Faculty group calls for L.A. Trade Tech president to resign

The L.A. Trade Technical College Academic Senate issues a vote of no confidence in President Roland Chapdelaine and calls on him to resign over a scandal in the finances of the school's foundation.

April 26, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

A faculty governing body at Los Angeles Trade Technical College issued a no-confidence vote in the college president and called on him to resign over a financial scandal at the college's foundation.

Roland "Chip" Chapdelaine announced earlier this month that he will retire in June 2013, when his contract ends. But faculty leaders said they want him out this year.

Wednesday's no-confidence vote by the Academic Senate was the first in the school's history. The final vote was 17-1, with 6 abstaining.

The Trade Tech foundation, a semi-autonomous nonprofit that raises money for scholarships and college programs at Trade Tech, is the subject of a Los Angeles Community College District audit and a Los Angeles County district attorney's investigation over lavish spending and bonuses paid to Rhea Chung, the foundation executive director, as well as allegations that Chapdelaine's signature was forged on some checks written to Chung.

Chung is now on administrative leave. She was Chapdelaine's former executive assistant.

Chapdelaine claimed to have no knowledge of many of the payments to Chung, including a $1,500 monthly car allowance (the same amount he and other district executives receive), a $22,000 "performance bonus" not allowed by district policy, and $2,000 monthly payment to run a youth orchestra on top of her contracted $113,460 salary.

In addition to the bonuses, Chung spent tens of thousands of dollars in foundation funds on golf outings and restaurant meals, which she said were all necessary to meet with potential donors.

Faculty said they questioned whether the almost daily restaurant meals — some at places such as Pizza Hut and Papa John's — and weekly golf outings, most of them at a "mediocre L.A. City course at Griffith Park," involved foundation business.

They charged that Chapdelaine had ignored warnings about potential improprieties and was responsible under the state education code for making sure the foundation's finances were handled appropriately.

"The buck stops with Chip," said John McDowell, head of the labor center at Trade Tech and faculty co-chair of the college council. McDowell said he thought Chapdelaine had done some good things for the college but that the foundation scandal had left a cloud over the school that would not lift until it gets new leadership.

Others said they were angered that more foundation money went into Chung's pocket or to the youth orchestra — which received nearly $160,000 in foundation funds in 2010 — than to helping needy students.

"I have students that still don't have a textbook, and they look at this and they look at me and say, 'What are you guys doing?'" said Rose Maina, a professor of behavioral science at the college.

Sociology professor Freddie McClain, who cast the dissenting vote, said he sympathized with his colleagues' outrage over the foundation scandal but didn't want to rush to judgment.

Chapdelaine said he had not seen the resolution and could not comment. In a letter to the college community announcing his plans to retire, he gave no reason for his decision, but wrote that he planned to stay on through 2013 to deal with the foundation issues and other matters and to give the district time to find a replacement.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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