Members of the public continue to shed light on the mishandling of state adult education funding by
MiraCosta Community College: Are students with disabilities being left out in the cold?
Oceanside, CA – At the April 19, 2018 Board meeting of the MiraCosta Community College Trustees, members of the public again appeared before the Board questioning certain funding practices of a MiraCosta-based consortium created under the California Adult Education Block Grant Program (AEBG) to improve programs and supports to help certain adult student groups bridge gaps to the workforce. The speakers urged the Board to review the funding tables contained in the consortium's 3-year implementation "AB8" plan to better understand the scope and seriousness of the public’s concerns about the possible mishandling of the approximately $3.3 million allocated to date, and the failure of the consortium to use the funding for students with disabilities as directed by the implementation plan.
Per documents the consortium filed with the state, the Board and President Sunny Cooke are at the top of the governance chart for the consortium. MiraCosta is the sole fiscal agent, sole recipient of the funding, and sole provider of the adult education programs funded by the public funds in question. Only MiraCosta and the San Dieguito Union High School District were listed as voting members of the consortium per the consortium's current bylaws available on the consortium website (see, Bylaws section II(b)).
Since November 2017, members of the public and students have been asking how the consortium was allowed to meet without the public meetings required by the Ed Code and the Brown Act during the period between April 2016 and December 2017, and without detection or correction by MiraCosta’s administration. Funding allocations and decisions must be done publicly via publicly noticed meetings in order to be valid under both the Education Code and the Brown Act.
Education activist Lucile Lynch discovered the lack of public meetings in fall of 2017 and has since urged an audit of the consortium to determine if the funds allocated between April 2016 and December 2017 were spent as directed by the consortium’s 3-year implementation plan submitted to the state to get the funding. Although MiraCosta has yet to conduct a formal audit, through public document requests of personnel requisitions, Lynch discovered that approximately $143,000 of the state funding had been used to pay for a grant supervisor of a federal grant program administered under the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA), which receives its own funding. After an informal internal program review by a state AEBG employee agreed that the use of AEBG funding for the WIOA position was questionable, the Board acknowledged at its March 2018 Board meeting that MiraCosta's administrators' approval to use the block grant funding to replace the funding source of the WIOA position was not an allowed use and promptly eliminated the position.
Lynch has also raised questions about the accuracy of the information contained in MiraCosta’s most recent WIOA grant request that resulted in a nearly doubling of the federal funding. Per a tip submitted to Watchdog, MiraCosta's Budget and Planning Committee is in the process of amending the WIOA grant request, but attempts by Watchdog to verify the agenda and minutes of this committee was blocked.
The MiraCosta website for the Budget and Planning committee and websites of other governance committees (e.g. Academic Affairs Committee), contain password protected portals that prevent the public from accessing the agenda or minutes online. Watchdog reached out to Lynch who shared that she has submitted a written request that the portals be removed from the Budget and Planning Committee site and other MiraCosta governance groups because she had concerns that such practices could violate the Brown Act. This is not the only time she has raised a concern about a possible Brown Act violation by a MiraCosta council or committee. On at least one occasion Lynch alerted the Academic Senate President that an agenda had not been posted for a March meeting, but the Academic Senate proceeded with its meeting anyway. She shared that she submitted document requests earlier in the year to learn who directed the use of these portals in the first place because they diminish the public's access to information forming the subject matter of financial decisions.
The funding tables in the AB86 Plan Lynch referenced at the April board meeting were approved by the Consortium in 2015 and set forth lists of action items with approved allocations and deadlines. Most, if not all, of the action items and dates relating to improving the adults with disabilities program and services for students with disabilities appear to have been disregarded.
“Students and others have come before the Board these past months alleging discriminatory practices with respect to students with disabilities and if you look at these tables, I believe you’ll find that of the four program areas prioritized for action and funding in the AB86 plan, the funding steps to support students with disabilities were inexplicably the most ignored,” shared Lynch.
Diane Dieckmeyer, MiraCosta's VP of Instruction, attempted to defend the consortium's lack of compliance with the implementation plan in a presentation to the Academic Senate during which she claimed the measures to support the adults with disabilities had been "cut." However the agenda and minutes of the consortium meetings produced in response to Lynch's document requests failed to show that the consortium had cut any of these items. Dr. Dieckmeyer also alleged that the adults with disabilities program was simply one of many "subgroups" and that the funding was used instead for the four "primary" groups or what she termed as the "four pillars." However, a review of the AEBG statute, which defines the groups to be supported by the adult education funding, reveals that there are no subgroups under the Adult Block Grant Program. A review of the AB86 plan itself further reveals that the adults with disabilities program was one of the four primary groups prioritized for action by the implementation plan. Lynch also contacted the state's grant office, which responded that it had not created any subgroups for purposes of the AB86 funding allocations.
The tables referenced by Lynch at the Board meeting revealed numerous instances where funding was not allocated per the plan and can be found on pages 123, 143, 165, 175 and 185 of the consortium’s 3-year implementation plan dated March 1, 2015. Lynch highlighted many of the disregarded items and their respective action deadlines at the board meeting, including the following:
The failure of the consortium to use $138,700 in AEBG funding to hire another DSPS counselor for students with disabilities by 2016 (p. 145 of the AB86 plan);
The failure to hire a program coordinator by 2016 to implement a 2 year college-to-career program called CLEAR Paths, or Workability III by 2016 ($138,700, p. 167);
The failure to use over $114,000 in block grant funding to hire full-time faculty for the adults with disabilities program by 2016 to create educational pathways and help build the CLEAR Path program (p. 167);
The failure to set aside $20,000 in annual funding for Workability III to help MiraCosta students train for and better access the workforce.
These are but a few examples of the over $500,000 of the $3.3 million in funding that was earmarked to be used to support students with disabilities, but not used for the stated purposes.
The professionally researched AB86 implementation plan was funded by the state to explore how MiraCosta was meeting the needs of seven student communities targeted by the Community College Apportionment Act and to devise an action plan to help the communities most in need bridge gaps to the workforce. Of the communities researched by the outside party, students with disabilities were identified as the community group most in need of funding support because it had the smallest percentage of instructional need met by MiraCosta of any of the seven student groups targeted under the Adult Education Block Grant Program.
Per the AB86 report, there are approximately 12,000 community members within the district's area with disabilities, but less than 2% were having their educational needs met through MiraCosta. Studies have shown that persons with disabilities who attend postsecondary education are twice as likely to get employment and improve their earnings by approximately 50%. Under California's Employment First Act, employment of persons with disabilities is one of the state's highest priorities, and postsecondary education is recognized under the Employment First Act as one of the tools to meet this stated priority.
Lynch also pointed out how the lack of full-time faculty for adults with disabilities is not simply a numbers game as the public is often told, reminding Watchdog that the numbers of the adults with disabilities program have been kept artificially low because of the lack of course options in which students can enroll. "There are potentially 12,000 potential students with disabilities in our community, but you won't have the numbers if MiraCosta won't provide the faculty or programming to engage these students."
At the April Board meeting Lynch shared her belief that the adults with disabilities program has been treated differently than other noncredit programs: • MiraCosta approved additional full-time faculty for the Adult High School program even though the program's enrollment numbers were down; • the Adult High School program was given 1 full-time faculty per roughly 295 students, but the adults with disabilities program was not given full-time faculty when it had nearly 300 students a few years ago; and
• MiraCosta recently approved full-time faculty for its Umoja program that serves approximately 144 students, but declined the request for full-time faculty for the adults with disabilities program expected to have around 190 students this year even though consortium funding was supposed to be made available to fund the position, unlike other faculty positions which are paid out of MiraCosta's general funds.
The faculty request for the adults with disabilities program stated that full-time faculty was not only needed to help build the program so that MiraCosta could meet its obligations under the adult education grant program, but also to avoid numerous ongoing violations of MiraCosta’s procedures and regulations and to address projected growth in the progam. Yet despite these compelling reasons, MiraCosta's Academic Affairs Committee failed to rank the request high enough for approval, even though the adults with disabilities program had its own potential funding under the AB86 plan. (Per the AEBG office's Fiscal Management Guide, AEBG funding is "ongoing," and can be used to hire permanent staff, teachers and faculty.) An excerpt from the faculty request for the adults with disabilities program is shown below:
Lynch is not alone in her concern that discriminatory practices may exist or have emerged over recent years. Students have appeared before the MiraCosta Board asking why the adults with disabilities program has had the least amount of programming of the noncredit areas despite the block grant funding, and why students with disabilities are not represented by category or visually on the catalogs like the students in the other noncredit programs. Members of the public have also been quick to point out how community colleges in California are tasked by law to provide remedial instruction, but until this year, MiraCosta has historically only provided a single basic academic skills course through its adults with disabilities program despite the availability of state funding generally for remedial courses, as well as the adult education block grant funding, which was specifically designated to improve the supports and programming for the adults with disabilities program as one of the seven targeted program areas. Per the AB86 Plan, enrollment in the adults with disabilities program was once near 300 in 2008-09, but the numbers in recent years plummeted to less than half of that.
Also, despite the student concerns raised at the Board's December 2017 meeting about how the 2018 spring catalog failed to feature the adults with disabilities program or photos of students with disabilities on the cover like the other noncredit groups, MiraCosta again excluded representations of students with disabilities from the cover of the 2018 summer/fall catalog choosing to recycle the material from the 2018 spring catalog which students had previously challenged as exclusionary.
Members of the public have also raised concerns about MiraCosta's failure to use its federal WIOA funding to train or work with students in the noncredit adults with disabilities program. The federal funding is supposed to be used to increase employment, education, training and support services for students "with a particular focus on those individuals with disabilities and other barriers to employment."
On April 20, 2018, students and staff shared at a recent Academic Senate meeting how MiraCosta's administration was cutting $100,000 in funding needed for individualized 1:1 tutoring services through MiraCosta's TASC (Tutoring and Academic Support Center) to help students with disabilities, language barriers, veterans and others succeed in MiraCosta's credit programs. MiraCosta administration wants to instead use the funding for STEM Center and programs, after already getting millions for the biotech program. The speakers shared their stories about how critical this level of support is to provide setting accommodations to make tutoring successful, help make coursework accessible, and to ensure that MiraCosta is a campus that welcomes diverse learners. One student with disabilities shared how TASC, with its standing appointments and consistent support, took her from a struggling student to a tutor herself. Elimination of this essential support service raises many concerns about how much MiraCosta really wants diverse learners. (Click here for audio, especially :18 minute mark).
Advocate Laura Makings has previously pointed out through public comments before the Board and at Academic Senate meetings how when it comes to students with disabilities, there is a lack of equity. She pointed to how students with disabilities were even excluded from MiraCosta's own "equity plan" even though the Student Success Act requires that community colleges create these plans to specifically research and create goals to ensure certain students groups, including students with disabilities, have access to basic skills courses, career technical education and workforce training, among other things.
This past March, the Academic Senate passed a resolution on Equitable Programs that acknowledged “some programs within the college, such as Adults with Disabilities or others that currently lack full-time faculty leadership, are not as well supported as others in the planning process to make their needs known for the sake of their students’ success.”
Makings also has been asking through public comments that the Board consider amendment of its institutional goal to incorporate “vocational” success, not just academic success, to reflect the stated purposes of the Donohue Higher Education Act of California and to make sure that students in need of vocational training are not left behind. “The Donohue Act specifically states that community colleges, as a primary mission, shall offer academic and vocational instruction. The amendment of MiraCosta’s institutional goal will recognize the legislatively stated purpose of California’s community colleges to provide both academic and vocational education to students as part of the continuous workforce improvement.” She also urged the use of the state funding to hire full-time faculty as directed by the AB86 Plan so that other programs could be supported as needed by faculty with experience in working with students with disabilities to create meaningful pathways to all of MiraCosta's programs and courses.
Lynch stated she believes that Dr. Kate Alder, the interim dean and new supervisor of the consortium, is working hard to get things back on track and that her efforts to devise improved bylaws will help people better understand their roles and responsibilities when it comes to the consortium's accountability to the public and its funding allocations. “I believe Dr. Alder is a strong, collaborative leader who is sensitive to the pressing need to organize the consortium and move forward." However, Lynch shared that the public is concerned about the recent elimination of the noncredit coordinator position, which has been held by an associate faculty instructor in the adults with disabilities program, because the adults with disabilities program has no chair and the noncredit coordinator position was the only program-related leadership position held at MiraCosta Community College by an instructor who works directly with students in the noncredit adults with disabilities program.
According to Lynch, the noncredit coordinator position is supposed to be replaced soon with other faculty to serve as chair of the adults with disabilities program, seniors and short term vocational. MiraCosta has traditionally referenced to these programs collectively as simply "noncredit other." The noncredit ESL program (English as a second language) and the adult high school program each have their own chairs to represent the needs of its students, faculty and program. The adults with disabilities program has never had a chair of its own.
"If MiraCosta administration truly cares about its students in the 'other' noncredit programs, it will select a chair who has a demonstrated record in successfully serving, instructing and advocating for those with intellectual disabilities, seniors and short-term voc, not simply full-time faculty from another program who has no meaningful background with these particular programs or its students. If they're not going to take advantage of Ms. Warren's extensive experience, maybe someone from DSPS can be considered," shared Lynch.
The noncredit coordinator position was held by associate faculty Krista Warren, a highly popular leader and instructor in the adults with disabilities program who also serves as president of the associate faculty union, currently in contract negotiations with MiraCosta. The Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC) recently recognized Warren as part-time faculty of the year for the State of California and she was also selected to be on the state's field team for the Adult Education Block Grant. She has taught adults with disabilities at MiraCosta for over twenty-five years, but MiraCosta has never committed to hiring her or any other instructor in the adults with disabilities program as full-time faculty to help build programming and pathways for its students with disabilities.
"I hope the district is not retaliating against her for her union activities or for her advocacy for students with disabilities," said one parent, who asked that her name not be used.
Students and members of the public stated they are watching to see what happens because they believe the elimination of that noncredit position along with a cut of the funding for tutoring of students in the credit tracks is yet another indication of how uncommitted MiraCosta’s current administration is to students with disabilities. One of the parents pointed out how courses for adults with disabilities scheduled for the San Elijo campus have yet to be assigned staff per the 2018 summer/fall catalog.
Given the recent announcement about the cuts in tutoring for credit bound students, and the elimination of the noncredit coordinator position that allowed students with disabilities to have instructional leadership in the noncredit division, some community members are worried that President Cooke is focusing too much on her biotech program and forgetting that MiraCosta is a community college for academic and vocational instruction, supported by community taxes to serve all community students. A review of what other community colleges are doing (and have done in a single year in some instances), such as those in North and South Orange County, suggests that MiraCosta is lagging far behind the current trend to develop strong programs with its adult education funding to better equip its students with disabilities for the workforce or with pathways to further their academic and vocational pursuits.
"I hope the students and community are proven wrong and that Dr. Cooke commits to supporting instruction of all of our community's students in a manner that includes those with disabilities and facing other barriers, and equips our community's students with skills to access the workforce, not just the doors of a 4-year university,” says Lynch.
Even though the consortium’s 3-year implementation plan dated March 1, 2015 identified what was needed by the community, per the public's comments MiraCosta's administration and the consortium has largely ignored the AB86 plan's action items for adults with disabilities. Now that the public has exposed the lack of the consortium's public meetings, and the consortium's failure to meet any of the deadlines to fund the items specified in the plan for the students with disabilities, the community hopes that the Board and MiraCosta's president Sunny Cooke will provide the leadership needed to make changes.
Members of the public have asked the Board to place the matter on the its agenda for an update on what will be done about the consortium's funding allocations made during the time between April 2016 and December 2017 -- when no public meetings were held -- but so far this request has not been granted.
Lynch, Makings, students and others have raised numerous valid questions that need answers. Watchdog has one too: why is the Adult Education Block Grant supervisor still there if the lack of public meetings and these alleged problems happened under her watch?
The next consortium meeting is scheduled for June 18, 2018 at noon at La Colonia Park, 715 Valley Avenue, Solana Beach (main hall). The next regular MCCCD board meeting is scheduled for May 17 at 4 pm at the San Elijo Campus, 3333 Manchester Avenue, Cardiff.
1. AB 86 Plan
2. Academic Senate Resolution
(Audio Tape of public comments are available on the Academic Senate Website)
3. Budget Planning Committee Site (requires portal login to access agenda and minutes)