September 2020 Advocate: Peralta District fighting to keep local control


Peralta Community College District fighting to keep local control

by Jenninfer Shanoski, President, Peralta Federation of Teachers

The leadership of the Peralta Community College District Academic Senate, all four College Faculty Senates and the Peralta Federation of Teachers are trying to build support to prevent the California Community Colleges Board of Governors from removing local control from their locally-elected Board of Trustees by assigning a “special trustee” to oversee the district.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges, plans to raise the possibility of assigning a “special trustee” to our district at the September 21-22 meeting of the Board of Governors. The appointment of a special trustee would effectively render the elected officials powerless, turning our district into something more reflective of a dictatorship than a democracy.

Democracy has always been at the heart of operations at Peralta Community College District. It is in the relationship between faculty and students, administrators and faculty, and perhaps most visibly in our general elections, where our Board of Trustees is elected by the vote of the citizens of the six cities we serve. The appointment of a special trustee would upend democracy and local control and make our district subject to the whims of an unaccountable outside administrator.

At their meeting in May of this year, the Board of Governors hailed Peralta for its success in addressing the fiscal and accreditation-related concerns, but they noted “board governance” issues and difficult relations between district management and the PCCD Board of Trustees. The state Board of Governors members might choose to cite the latter concern in any takeover effort. “Board governance issues,” in this case, is a reference to what some might cite as problematic relationships between board members themselves. Yet, this fall, our local democratic processes will have produced two, maybe even three, new board members, thus dramatically changing the composition of the board and the relationships that seem to trouble the state Board of Governors.

Even so, we believe that whatever challenges our district management faces in working with the board are part of the larger democratic challenge of public education. If the district administration can’t figure out how to work productively with the duly elected representatives of our neighborhoods, they simply have to work harder–or step down and make way for a team who is ready to engage, collaborate, and compromise, which is exactly what democracy demands of us all.

The Peralta board is composed of seven elected members who are duty-bound to listen to everyone in the Peralta community: residents, students, classified professionals, teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and administrators. In essence, a takeover says that the community’s will is irrelevant, that consultants and political appointees get to call the shots. The potential assignment of a “special trustee” would not only be a slap in the face to our district and local democracy, but also to the people who truly make Peralta work. They are playing a political game, and we are the pawns, and it is our students who will undoubtedly suffer the most.