New law removes community from community college

Written by: Albert Fulcher / Senior Staff Writer

October 19, 2012

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”— C. S. Lewis

Prepare for the casualties of Senate Bill 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012. Single parents with two children that need a couple business courses to get that $2 pay raise? Adios! Teenagers that fell through the cracks of a dysfunctional high school district and with no diploma? Sayanara! Older students seeking self-improvement, underserved minorities and immigrants working on basic skills? Hit the camino, amigo.

There’s more. Students that struggle to maintain a C average and do not make the grade in difficult courses face the possibility of losing financial aid.

Introduced by Senator Alan Lowenthal and with recommendations from the California Student Task Force, this bill is a culmination of a yearlong evaluation by community college personnel and lawmakers whose aim is to narrow the gate at community colleges and force fewer students through faster.

SB 1456 combined with the defeat of Proposition 30 would hit California Community Colleges with the brutality of Hurricane Katrina. Most students will be blindsided by a legislative decision they never saw coming. It is not Armageddon, but it is pretty close.

Praised by legislators and administrators as a way to improve the lousy 30 percent transfer rate of community colleges and get more students into the workforce, the bill is, nevertheless, a giant leap backwards. In a nation that is screaming for an educated populace competitive in today’s global economy, SB 1456 left the neediest behind.

Losers will be minority students from the working class borderlands families. In other words, us.

Making students and colleges more accountable is fine. Prioritizing transfer and certificate students is defensible. But coupled with a decade of brutal budget cuts and no foreseeable respite for years to come, these small bandages are not enough to fix America’s gaping educational wounds. Left in its wake is an automated education assembly line, stamping out transfer and certificated students like widgets in a production factory. Everyone else can start careers at Taco Bell or KFC.

Under the regime of SB 1456, prospective community college students will be forced to declare majors as high school seniors and all but forbidden to change majors. Gone are the days students can sample academic disciplines to find their passion. Californians will become more like the imagination-impaired Chinese, forced into a life path before they are old enough to vote.

The Student Success Act of 2012 will ration education in the system that brings the largest and quickest return. It is penny wise but pound foolish, and will only accelerate California’s high education decline and economic meltdown.


Southwestern College Elections 2012

Compiled by: Albert Fulcher, Thomas Baker, Angelica Rodriguez, Amparo Mendoza, Serina Duarte, Enrique Raymundo

Humberto Peraza interview

Governing Board Vice President Humberto Peraza was appointed last August during a time of turmoil and controversy. He said he decided to run for election to the board to continue his work to reform SWC and clean up the college’s reputation following the “pay for play” scandal that led to numerous felony charges against former college administrators and board members. He is a small business owner, and formerly policy director for San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso, regional director for Senator Barbara Boxer and district chief of staff to Congressman Bob Filner.

Married with two young boys, Peraza said he has coached soccer, football and Little League baseball. His wife is also a professional.

“We are a family that is constantly on the move,” he said. “That is a full-time job in itself. My parents, my aunts and my wife’s parents all live here so our family is a South Bay family. This is our home and I want to make sure that the education is good for our kids.”

Peraza said he brings experience and knowledge of the community to the college and this has fueled his efforts to reform old policies and demand transparency.

“Ultimately, I want to do something that leaves something for our children,” he said. “I am running so that the board stays on the right track. It has pushed in the right direction and hired a new superintendent. We have done more things in one year than most boards and governmental entities have done in three or four. You have instructional, ethics and campaign reform. We started the community benefits agreement. Countless things in between are happening and have been accomplished.”

Peraza said community members still have concerns about accreditation, Proposition R and past corruption. He said the current board majority is reforming the college and that “house cleaning” continues. “(The previous) board has been completely wiped out,” he said. “There is a new superintendent in town and she wiped out the (corrupt) staff. We continue to push and create reforms.”

Peraza said it takes people of courage to stand in the face of adversity.

“I have enjoyed working with this board and the superintendent to continue changes,” he said. “It has been my honor and I would consider myself lucky if I can continue to do it for four more years. We are still in the tunnel but we can see the light at the end. Perception is important. Doing the right thing, being a transparent, open government creates trust on campus in the community. I am running to continue to make those reforms, see that finished and see Southwestern College become the shining example for the rest of the region.”

Peraza said budget is the biggest challenge today and if Proposition 30 fails SWC faces “devastating” cuts to classes and programs.

“My hope is if that Prop 30 passes, that gives us a little more flexibility to stay within the budget, to be able to handle the services for the people and the students that we service right now,” he said. “That is important to make sure that we can actually educate people and that we have the faculty, staff, teachers and counselors. I don’t think anyone can come up with a sweeping solution and if they say they can, they are lying to you. If someone has a solution for a $10 million budget cut, I would love to hear it. I think that our solutions have to be looked at long term.”

Peraza said he has advocated for revenue generation as an alternative to constant cutting. He said the stadium is an example of an underutilized college resource and could generate revenue hosting local and international professional soccer, rugby and concerts.

“I have heard from experienced educators that up to 25 community colleges will close and cease to exist if the tax initiative does not pass and that is a very scary thought,” he said. “Things (in California are) getting worse and worse.”

Peraza said Senate Bill 1456, based on the Student Success Task Force Recommendations, has good ideas but is also troubling. Passed last month, the legislation narrows the mission of community colleges to transfer and certificate attainment. It will require all incoming freshmen to declare majors and have an educational plan aimed to get them through community college in two years instead of the current average of four.

“The whole thing about having people coming in and deciding what their major is going to be and turning it into almost like a factory, you are in and out in two years, not everybody works that way,” he said. “There are many students that do not know what they want and they come to community college for exactly that reason.”

Working students have it much tougher these days, Peraza said, and cannot take as many classes as the new legislation will require.

“Some will be left out in the cold and that is my biggest concern,” he said. “Not everybody is the same. It cannot be this cookie cutter ideal that everybody fits into this one box. It doesn’t work that way.”

Speech and press freedom are essential, Peraza said. He pledged to always fight for First Amendment rights for all while he is on the board.

“Student reporters (in colleges have) freedom of the press,” he said. “To me, the free press is untouchable. It should not be impacted in any way or influenced by anyone on this campus, including myself, and the administration. There should never be a time, like the (past) administration that tried to block printing of the newspaper just because they do not like what you write.”

Peraza said he is working to introduce a local hiring process that helps veteran and disabled-owned companies.

“One of the reasons is to ensure that local people get (college construction) jobs,” he said. “People that are paying for those bonds should be the ones (who benefit). If we can do that we can revitalize our local economy rather than money going somewhere else.”

Peraza said he is able to make tough decisions.

“We need the people with the most courage,” he said. “I am not worried about where else I am going to go, or where I am going to be. I am here to make sure that students get educated when there are cuts. What is the most important thing on this campus? Educating students, period.”

William “Bud” McLeroy interview

William “Bud” McLeroy grew up in Otay Mesa and calls South Bay his home. A full-time San Diego firefighter for 22 years, he is a six-year U.S. Marine Corps veteran with 30 years service in the Army Reserves. He is a commandant (superintendent) of the 80th Training Command. He owns a small business that manufactures surfboards and is in the process of opening a Hawaiian food restaurant.

McLeroy, running for Seat 3, said he spent his entire life in service and possesses the experience, expertise and heartfelt desire to serve the college and his community.

A self-described family man with four children, McLeroy said serving SWC is important to him because he and some of his children attended the college. He said he considers it a great asset to the South Bay. Students would be his top priority, he said.

“No matter who you are, your income level, you can always count on Southwestern to give you the chance to better yourself,” he said. “In the past two years, I don’t think the college itself has been running in an organized fashion that meets its potential. Recently it has come under investigation through the legal system as far as corruption. It is being able to do the right thing for the people in the community where I grew up in.”

Former SWC administrators and board members Nick Alioto, Greg Sandoval, John Wilson, Yolanda Salcido and current employee Arlie Ricasa have been charged with felonies by the San Diego County District Attorney. Former superintendent Raj K. Chopra has fled prosecution. All except Ricasa resigned from SWC following the 2010 governing board election. Humberto Peraza, who currently holds trustee seat #3, was appointed in August 2011, after the district attorney indictments and the mass resignations.

McLeroy said he could not turn his back to the problems he saw with the college because if he did he would be turning his back on his community.

“They are in trouble,” he said. “If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be a fireman. I wouldn’t be in the military. I want to help this community and this school as much as I can. It comes from the bottom of my heart. It is not a political move. The challenges that I see, the state has cut the funding for colleges and universities. But the colleges and the universities still want to run on the same money they did before. In order to cut so that it doesn’t affect the outcome of the students we have to know how to actually place ourselves in the position to do better.”

McLeroy said he was wounded in Iraq in 2003. After rehab he went back into the reserves. For the next three years he focused to make sure that every soldier under his command was well trained.

“I had to because upon graduation day the next year they would all be deployed to a combat zone,” he said. “I gave them the upmost in respect and the upmost in knowledge so they could survive.”

Promoted to commandant after three years, he said he retained his personal commitment to all students and that he will carry this philosophy as a college board member.

“When it comes to why I am best for the job here, I’ve done this. I have a proven track record,” he said. “Failure is not an option in my school. I don’t want you to quit. I don’t want you to give up and I don’t want you to fail.”

McLeroy lost a leg in 2003. He became the first one-legged firefighter and the first amputee service member. He said he had to set an example for his family and considers Southwestern as a part of that family.

“I can come here, evaluate and make it better so students can get a better education,” he said. “If we spend money foolishly that money can’t go to the kids. I will give every ounce of energy in my body to make sure students succeed. I have to make my school survive over the incompetence that has been here.”

McLeroy said he understands that not everyone at the college is corrupt, but said the college needs to rethink expenditures and utilize the potential of the satellite campuses.

“I learned that as a teacher, as a department head and as an administrator in the military,” he said. “I feel that I can do the job. I have done it. I am not the guy coming in that doesn’t know about the school and I am not the guy coming in that doesn’t know what is involved. I am the guy that has done it and through the grace of God has made things happen and said let’s do it here.”

McLeroy said if Proposition 30 fails everything at SWC is vulnerable and the college will be hit hard. He said it is important that whomever is elected knows how to balance a budget and understands the education system and management.

“Two years ago when I sat down in debates, I said it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “Now we are at the governor’s bill that says we have to pay taxes. If you look at all the bills that have wanted to raise taxes, people say no. The governor passed a budget stating that this bill would pass. That was wrong. I was able to raise the GPA and lower the cost of business.”

He said holding people accountable is essential and though it appears that the college is coming out of scandal, it is not.

“They are still investigating findings there,” he said. “It is easy to be corrupt when you are doing it for the wrong reason.”

He said it is not enough to “squeeze by” accreditation status and that he has the experience to deal with accreditation issues. In his experience, he said, he took his school from barely passing by to full accreditation with a Center of Excellence status.

“Being a board member, you are a leader,” he said. “We need to get away from the corruption part and actually get back into the education part. People won’t remember us for the education, they will remember us for the corruption. Part of changing that is changing the people that are in power. We just need to make a clean break. We need to build our reputation up.”

McLeroy said freedom of speech and the press are rights of the American people, and that it is important that people receive unbiased information.

“I love freedom of speech, freedom of the press and I love freedom,” he said. “If I didn’t I would have never gone to war. Journalists can be the most fantastic journalist in the world if they learn to eliminate the emotional. I know in the past about people wanting to stifle the speech here. You can’t stifle speech. Just like me if I would have skewed my instruction one way or another, I would have had a student die.”

William Stewart Interview

William Stewart, a professor of philosophy at San Diego City College, is running for seat No. 1 on the Southwestern College Governing Board. Dr. Jean Roesch currently holds the seat, but is not running for re-election.

Stewart said he is a California native who moved to San Diego to complete graduate work at UCSD. Afterwards he went on to work at City College where he has taught for 26 years. He lives in Bonita.

Stewart said he wants to help SWC and give back to the community.

“I was looking for some way to have an impact on the community in a positive way and where I could model it for my children,” said Stewart. “I’m very conscious with this idea that if I want my two kids to have the right priorities it is very important that my wife and I live the right priorities.”

Stewart has worked in the California Community College system since the age of 21, he said. It combines his interest in community service with his love of education.

“I’m not looking for Southwestern to give me something, I’m looking to give Southwestern something,” he said. “I’m looking to give my time and energy. I have no political ambition. That’s not my agenda here.”

A business man in real estate, Stewart said he has knowledge of budgets.

“I think I bring to the board a very student-centric perspective because the questions are: how are the students being served? Is our budget best focused on meeting the needs of our students?” said Stewart.

Stewart supports Proposition 30 because it will help maintain current levels of classes and student services.

“If Proposition 30 passes then we can look at expanding those services, that’s going to be very helpful,” he said. “If it doesn’t pass I think we’re really going to have to look at a line item review of the budget to see how this school is going to continue running at a lower funding while still not having our students take most the hits.”

Stewart said students have taken a disproportionate hit due to these cuts because an easy place to cut is funding for adjunct faculty, part-time jobs that pay students and non-contract staff.

“Basically, the best decisions you can make are sometimes not the easiest ones you can make,” he said. “So I will be looking at the line items which require harder decisions, but decisions that are going to protect the services for the students.”

Freedom of discourse is essential to higher education, Stewart said. He said he would not permit administration to restrict free speech or free press rights as the Chopra/Alioto administration did.

“Here we are, a collective of individuals, and the suggestion that we should restrict student discourse to me would be a frightening idea,” he said.

Stewart said he is impressed with SWC even with the devaluation of education that is currently occurring in California. He said the state must reinvest in education. During a visit to the main Chula Vista campus he pointed to some aging infrastructure.

“See that board?” he asked. “That board right there is about a $400 board. If we don’t paint it for three more years there will be dry rot and you’ll have to replace the whole board. We can spend $20 on a can of paint or pay $500 later to replace the whole thing. That’s generally speaking how the state has been running the budget. When I come to SWC it’s that kind of basic pragmatism that I’ll be bringing here.”

Elizabeth Jean Roach

Elizabeth Jean Roach is an educator running for seat No. 1 on the Southwestern College governing board.

Originally from Arizona, Roach said she has lived in the South Bay for 16 years, mostly in Chula Vista. She has been involved in education since 1987, she said, and since then has worked at a charter school as well as home schooling.

On her own at 16, Roach started taking classes at Southwestern Community College in New Mexico and then Mesa Community College in Arizona, she said. She transferred to Arizona State University and then Brigham Young University in 1988 where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in secondary education and went on to teach for 20 years.

“As this seat came open I thought what a wonderful opportunity it would be to give back a community college because there is no way I could have gotten a college degree without community college in my life,” she said.

After reading a story called “The Big Jump” as a child, she said, her outlook on the method to solving problems was changed.
“By the end of this story the character finds out that the big jump is just a series of little tiny jumps and then he was able to go to where he needed to go,” she said. “I think that’s one of the things I would like to bring to the college. Whatever the obstacle, it’s not a big jump, it’s just lots of little tiny jumps and if we can just keep after it we can overcome anything.”

With four children growing older and going through the educational system, Roach said her main motivation for running for seat No. 1 is to make SWC the best that it can be.

“This is a great opportunity, this is a great school,” she said. “ This was an opportunity and I wanted to be a part of it. To make it a better part of the community and a better part for my family.”

Roach said her prime focus is to help students achieve their goals.

“I’m willing to work hard for this and for the school so that people that want to get certificates and job training can do that, people that want to transfer to universities can do that, people that want to take swim classes can do that,” she said.

One of the biggest issues Roach said she sees at SWC is low graduation rates. She expressed interest in seeing these rates increase. She said that there is a disconnect between students leaving high school and entering a community college. SWC needs more outreach to high schools, she said.

Technology can be better applied to help students find classes, she added.
“If we have one teacher we can open up a class in ways we couldn’t if we just had one classroom, 30 chairs,” she said, “but with technology we can make it available at more times and for more people.”

Roach said student success should be an issue a local community college should tackle in its own manner rather than only through legislative action at the state level.

“In school we talk about keeping local jurisdiction, let’s take care of our own housekeeping, let’s do our own chores here,” she said.

Roach said SWC is over-dependent on Sacramento for its finances.

“Financial aid and grants can be found through other sources, there is a lot of opportunity out there,” she said. “I would like to see other sources found. It would make us stronger and less dependent on the budget in Sacramento, which we know is in trouble.”

Forecasting the failure of Proposition 30, Roach said SWC needs to “consolidate, see what we can do for less, look at budgets and see what we can trim and what we can do smarter.” She said SWC should prepare for funding cuts rather than hoping for increases.

Roach said she is incorruptible.
“I started by saying I am not a union puppet and I’m not,” she said. “I’ll listen to the needs of the unions. I’m personally very concerned with faculty.”

Roach said she believes in the First Amendment rights of freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but only to a point, that point being where safety is involved.

“I think we need a vision for the future, I think we need a plan to get there, I think we need to work hard to get there because they’re our dreams, our lives, our futures,” she said. “So if we have those four keys, if we have a vision, if we have a plan, if we are willing to work hard and we have support, I think any student that comes here should be able to succeed in a reasonable amount of time. So let’s take our feet off the brakes and hit the gas and see student achievement take off.”

Suicide an epidemic for returning Vets

Written by: Albert H. Fulcher / Staff Writer

October 19, 2012

Suicide grimly reaped an average of 100 Americans each day over the past year. More than double the number of homicides reported each year and the third leading cause of death, suicide knows no boundaries. Suicide claims the rich, the poor, young and old, and people of every race and culture.

Last year alone, more than 8 million people thought, planned or attempted suicide. Emergency rooms treated more than 157,000 for self-inflicted injuries and every day thousands more never seek help. It is a paradox of the human race.

Numbers are staggering, yet shame still prevents society from having an open discussion on the subject.

Suicide is on the rise for active duty military, veterans, gays and lesbians, and college-age males—the highest rate seen in 15 years. Most suicides occur in an age range from 15 to 24. San Diego County’s Medical Examiner’s Office recorded 392 suicides in 2011 and the number is expected to rise pending investigations. This is the highest total in 23 years.

In July, a Time report on suicide among service members read, “Active-duty U.S. troops die by their own hand at the rate of one a day. Among all veterans, the rate is one every 80 minutes.”

War, bullying, abuse, neglect and antidepressant medications are cited as causes of suicide. In most cases there are obvious changes in behavior that, if recognized, could have saved a life.

A suicide prevention organization called It’s Up to Us San Diego provides a valuable resource on the signs of possible suicide and sound advice on beginning the conversation that no one wants to have. Some of the general symptoms are drastic mood swings, long-lasting sadness and irritability, social withdrawal, inability to cope with everyday problems and substance abuse.

With all of its ups and downs, catastrophes and triumphs, successes and failures, life is worth living. No one should feel completely alone and hopeless. Help is out there for those brave enough to seek it.

Suicidal men and women are not alone. There are people who care.

Choose life, whether it be for yourself or for someone you love. Understanding, compassion, love, empathy and courage can save a life.

Close friends and family with concerns must take the extra step to let depressed persons kow they are not alone and guide them to the help they need.

Reach out. It is up to us.

Local Suicide Prevention Action

Suicide Crisis Hotline-(888)-724-7240

Youth Talk Line-(877)-450-LINE (5463)

Active Duty and Veteran’s Courage to Call-2-1-1

VA’s Suicide Hotline-(800)-273-TALK (8255)

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