That doesn’t mean board members like it, because anyone may sign up to speak on any subject.
For months, the forums at the board meetings of Coastal Bend College have been characterized by contentious complaints.
But, at the CBC board meeting April 17, the process escalated.
Petition calls for
Wade Vinyard, a service manager for Ford Tractor, whose wife is enrolled in the CBC dental program, introduced a petition citing six reasons the board should resign en masse.
Vinyard told the board that more than 200 people at all four CBC sites have signed the petition and that more were coming.
By CBC policy, board members have elected not to respond—which Board President Paul Jaure says has prompted him, on more than one occasion, to sign up to speak during the forum.
“But, in executive session, we discuss everything that is brought up in public comment,” he says.
Failure, neglect cited
The petition says the board should resign because it:
•Failed to educate itself on the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accreditation process, “thereby placing the college’s academic reputation…in jeopardy.
•Neglected its responsibility of fiscal oversight, placing the college “in serious financial distress.”
•Failed to address President Beatriz Espinoza’s “retaliatory practices, intimidation tactics and woeful lack of leadership.”
•Approved the hiring of the Espinoza’s sister in a “key administrative position, creating a clear conflict of interest.”
•Failed to intervene “as large numbers of…educators, staff members and administrators are bullied into early retirement, resignation or are terminated in order to silence their voices…”
•(Lost) the trust of the community.
Vinyard told the board, “the reputation of CBC is going to go down, quickly. Once you lose your reputation, you can’t get it back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Board defends Espinoza
Not surprisingly, before retiring to executive session, neither Espinoza nor Board President Jaure had any comment on the petition.
“If you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it,” board member Laura Fischer said later.
Fischer and Jaure are quick to defend Espinoza, citing the problems she inherited when the board hired her two years ago.
Shortly after taking office, she began to discover what she was facing: SACS accreditation documentation years behind with an imminent deadline approaching, cutbacks in federal funding, a debt service reserve seriously inadequate and dropping enrollment with resulting loss of revenue.
Answer petition items
Taking the petition’s items in order:
SACS accreditation – during a question-and-answer session at a candidates forum sponsored by the Bee County Republican Club on April 14, Jaure told the audience that “we were not prepared for SACS” but did not elaborate.
The accreditation occurs every 10 years; for a college to adequately supply proper documentation, called assessment models, the standard procedure is to start years in advance.
Jaure cites an email from then-CBC President Thomas Baynum in late 2010 listing missing documentation from 10 various departments. Baynum adds, “Please note…that (the) president’s office does not intend to continue assessment models.”
“What he was saying is that the college didn’t need to do anything more with SACS,” Jaure said, predicting that Baynum already knew he was planning to resign.
“Then Dr. Espinoza comes in and finds out the college isn’t doing anything.” Espinoza, cognizant of the approaching accreditation deadline, tells the faculty and staff what is necessary—orders which countered Baynum’s.
“That created resentment problems right away,” Jaure says, who asks why faculty members, who had gone through the accreditation process many times, chose to ignore the requirements. “Where was the faculty senate?” he asks. “Why didn’t they go to Baynum and tell him that the SACS paperwork was something that needed to be done?”
Jaure says the board did not learn of Baynum’s decision until after he resigned.
Almost concurrently, Espinoza discovered that the reserve debt service was inadequate, requiring the college to contribute $1.5 million each year through fiscal year 2015 to re-establish the fund balance to $5.4 million. To do this, in May 2013, the board tasked her to reduce costs and spending by the same $1.5 million.
“In December 2012, when the audit was finalized, is the first time the board learned about the fiscal mismanagement that had been going on for a couple of years,” Jaure says.
Cost-cutting was necessary prior to Espinoza’s tenure. With enrollment dropping every semester—mostly because of the lure of high-paying jobs associated with Eagle Ford Shale—Jaure repeatedly warned that something had to give, or there would be layoffs.
“Still, you have to remember,” Jaure and Fischer said, “we are a policy board; it’s the job of the president to carry out that policy.”
Translation: the board does not oversee CBC’s day-to-day operations.
It is, however, responsible for the college’s financial bottom line, which Fischer scrutinizes with a magnifying glass.
Nepotism – the board’s policy includes an anti-nepotism rule. But, it only applies to elected officials. The college president is hired, not elected, even though the same policy names the college president as chief executive officer of the board.
Resignations – reacting to the petition’s concern about loss of manpower, Jaure says that this year, “we have 15 retirements; 11 of the 14 retired with service ranging from 21 to 44 years, and the majority (eight) has more than 31 years of service at CBC. We celebrate the success of our employees and the new phase they take on in retirement.”
Most of the retirements, he says, occurred “because of a change in personal/family life; i.e., moving out of the area, illness, better paying jobs.”
Leadership – Jaure says the public comment of the board meeting “is not a time for question and answers from the public. It is a time for the public to give us its concerns. We take them under advisement and correct things we find that may have been pointed out in public comment.”
Lost trust – Jaure says Espinoza’s record speaks for itself and lists 22 major accomplishments of her presidency including the SACS accreditation, adoption of a cost-saving, stringent budget and adopting a guaranteed graduation plan for students by working to transform CBC from a teacher-centered college to one that is student-centered.
The timing of the petition coincides with two candidates hoping to replace incumbents at a May 11 election, including Jaure.
“I have no idea what the outcome of all this is going to be,” Jaure says. “I just want to get this over with. I want to get the school back on track. I hope, when this is over, we get back to what’s good for the school.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.