This commentary was contributed by Gavilan College Board of Trustees President Rachel Perez and posted by BenitoLink staff. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
I have served on the Board of Trustees for Gavilan College since 2016 and for the last two years as the President of the Board. Trustees are responsible for governing the college on behalf of the public. In our roles and responsibilities as trustees, we perform many tasks to meet the standards and criteria for fulfilling our roles and to accomplish the work of the board. The fiscal management is one of the most important tasks of trusteeship that we are entrusted to do. I do not take that responsibility lightly nor does the rest of the board. In this capacity, our tasks are to set policy standards for budget planning and fiscal management, consider and adopt the district budget, consider and approve changes to the budget required by law and monitor the fiscal condition of the college. Another important task that we have is to work with other trustees and the CEO as part of a team that leads in a thoughtful manner to ensure the delivery of wise and prudent education for the communities that we serve. Please rest assured that we as a board are doing this.
If one wants to judge the performance and work of the current board, I would point you in the direction of reading the minutes of the board meetings, subcommittee meetings or other recorded meetings that we have held over the course of the last few years. I think that upon reading them you will discover the detail that includes questions being asked, discussions taking place, and decisions being made in a transparent manner. Trustees also tune into the weekly trustee webinars that are provided by the Chancellor’s Office to keep abreast of current fiscal information that is provided. Our governance model at Gavilan College has changed from previous years and I credit much of this to the support of the newest members of the board. Our governance model now includes the following: study sessions are held quarterly as part of our regularly scheduled board meetings, we have changed our committee structure and rotated board member assignments, the Budget and Auditing Subcommittee is now a committee of the whole (all seven members meet as opposed to only three) and we receive a monthly budget report at our regularly scheduled board meetings. This has improved our communication as a board and how we now do our work. Is it perfect? No, but like everything else, it is a work in progress. Is there room for improvement? You bet. Because there is always room to improve.
I do want to acknowledge that without a doubt Gavilan College is in a tough spot financially as are other colleges of a similar size and with the demographics that we serve. In order to address this situation, the President of the college, Dr. Rose, with the board’s approval, initiated the Institutional Effectiveness Task Force, comprised of all the constituent groups of the college, to come up with recommendations to close the deficit that exists. This is part of the Shared Governance Model that the college uses for any institutional wide initiatives facing the college. This IETF meets weekly and is making recommendations in three phases. Dr. Rose chairs this committee and discussion and progress is being made. Some may feel that the work is occurring at too slow a pace. However, the board supports the process because we know it is important to have all voices heard and at the table. Likewise, the board, in support of this effort, has committed to weekly Budget and Auditing Committee Meetings every Monday through the summer. These meetings are conducted through Zoom and anyone is encouraged to attend and participate in the meetings. Just so you know I have inquired and encouraged members of the press to cover our board meetings, as I know in previous years this was done. The response is usually that they do not have the staff for adequate coverage.
Similarly, the discussions on Measure X expenditures are open to the public and transparent. The planning for Measure X work, including the San Benito County campus, continues. Measure X funds cannot be used to cover the operational deficit. These are separate funding streams and one does not impact the other.
Lastly, I want to address and respond to Dr. Steven Kinsella’s commentary on the current finances of Gavilan College and, particularly with his dissatisfaction with six of the seven current board of trustees’ handling of the budget deficit. It is hard to discredit Steve’s statements on college finances, as his knowledge of budget and auditing are well known statewide, and I would not do that; however, it has been five years since he left the college. In that time there have been significant changes in the mandates from the State with a new focus for all community colleges to become more student centered in assisting students to complete their academic goals more expeditiously. In the last five years the community college system has dramatically changed the strategies we incorporate to serve students. The expectation is that students will persist longer from semester-to-semester, complete a certificate or degree sooner and/or transfer to a four-year college or university. The new Student-Centered Funding Formula ensures that we must comply with this mandate, as part of our apportionment is based upon reaching those student goals. This funding formula change was a huge hit to our finances as it was to many colleges across the state. Again, to support this mandate and the work of the college, the board incorporated the Vision for Success Goals outlined by the Chancellor’s office as part of our own yearly goals. Results from the goals are showing student success for many of our students but it costs more to serve students in this manner.
We are a lay board and as such should function as a unit, with the seven of us bringing many skills, backgrounds, and experiences to the board. According to the Trustee Handbook provided by the Community College League of California, trustees, “create a link between educational institutions and their communities. They also buffer colleges from undue intrusion by government and single interests. Boards are responsible for the resources, performance and welfare of the institutions they govern. The task is tremendous, but the rewards associated with successfully overseeing the vitality of a community college are countless.” The current board will do its best to live up to this expectation.
I would encourage the communities we serve to participate in any of our meetings. I can be reached at [email protected] if you have concerns or would like clarification on any part of this commentary.