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Consortium members approve budgets even though they don't know how AEBG programs are being funde

Solana Beach, CA - A budget workshop held by the MiraCosta-led consortium revealed that its school district appointed members are approving budgets without knowing how the consortium funding is being allocated per program. Under the Adult Education Act (formerly the Adult Education Block Grant Act), each legislatively created regional consortium is supposed to use the public funding under the Act to broaden the programming for 7 student populations in order to bridge gaps to the workforce and higher education. These groups are adults with disabilities, programs for short term career technical education, elementary and secondary basic skills, English learners and others. Ed Code § 84913. However, per the discussions at the 2018 March and June consortium meetings, the vast majority of the funding is going to non-instructional staff (also known as "classified"), and none towards faculty actually teaching classes or for programming development.

At the March 2018 consortium meeting, members of the public had objected to the draft budgets discussed because not a single member of the 2 member consortium could state how the money was being spent to support the programs prioritized for improvement in the consortium's AB86 implementation plan or what measures in the consortium's state implementation plan were being supported though the proposed budget's funding. Members of the public were simply presented with a summary consisting mostly of how payments were attributed to salaries and benefits (or instructional versus non-instructional staff).

In a public statement at the March meeting, advocate Lucile Lynch reminded the consortium members that it was their responsibility to know and approve the expenditures using the public funding to make sure they were consistent with the action items in the the consortium's AB86. She further pointed out how the budget numbers being used were based upon allocations conducted by the consortium supervisor, not approved by the consortium members, and how the consortium supervisor had filed the consortium's annual plan with the state at a time when there were no public meetings for the consortium members to approve this information. Lynch also raised concerns that the consortium members do not appear to have sufficient information to approve allocations and that they appear to have delegated their legislative responsibilities to the grant supervisor, who on her own is determining the specifics regarding how the money should be spent.

Per the Adult Education Act and state fiscal guidelines, funding allocations: • can only be made by the consortium members,

• must be publicly noticed via a meeting that affords the public an opportunity to comment,

• can only be used for the seven groups identified by the Act,

• must be "necessary and reasonable for proper and effective administration of allocations,"

are "allocable to the funding source activities,"

• are "approved within the 3-year consortia plan and the annual plan template of the consortium,"

• cannot supplant or replace funding that were funded from other sources (e.g. WIOA, Perkins, CalWorks, etc.),

• cannot be used in a manner that frees up state or local dollars for other purposes,

• cannot be used as matching funds to replace funds used previously meet the math requirement,

• cannot exceed a 5% administrative or indirect cost cap, and

• cannot be used to pay for any staff that does not directly support the AEBG services described in the consortium's AB86 plan.

To date, public inquiries have exposed several violations of the above, including MiraCosta administration's approval (without the consortium member's approval or a public meeting) to use the adult education funding to replace funding to pay for a grant supervisor to administer a separate federal grant, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which receives its own funding. Approximately $143,000 paid for the WIOA position was deemed to be a prohibited use of the adult education funding.

No records have been shared at the consortium or MiraCosta meetings to show whether MiraCosta Community College returned the funding to the consortium, but the WIOA position was ultimately eliminated by the MiraCosta Board in March of this year. Funding questions have also been raised about why consortium funds are being used to pay for so much classified staff given that the consortium receives just over $1 million a year and almost all of it is going to classified staff. The consortium supervisor has used the funds to pay campus aides to help with registration of noncredit students, staff to provide extra office assistance, students workers, career services and student support services specialists, even though MiraCosta receives over $2 million through the Student Success and Support Program, over $3 million through the Basic Skills Initiative, and other funding programs.

In response to the public's March concerns about the lack of transparency, Manual Zapata (who the Board of the San Dieguito Union High School District designated as its consortium representative and whose title with that district is "Director of Accountability and Special Programs"), moved for the consortium to hold a future budget workshop. As he explained a budget workshop could help answer some of the the issues raised by the public and examine which programs are being funded by the budget proposed in view of the failure of the consortium's materials to provide a breakdown per program area. In response to his request, the program supervisor initially responded the she had not provided a breakdown because one was was not required to be filed with the state, but Lynch was quick to point out that the consortium was not only governed by the Adult Education act, but also the Brown Act so that transparency should be a key consideration driving budget reporting. Lynch also questioned how the consortium members could approve a budget if they do not know where the money is going or how it is being spent.

Source: CNCAEC Board Packet.

Unfortunately, the June 18th "budget workshop" failed to answer any of the public's questions. Members of the public again raised concerns how the budgets the consortium members were approving failed to shed any light regarding which programs were being supported or provide any details about how the allocations were aligned with the AB86 plan. Lynch again presented a public comment sharing her frustration how the purpose of the budget workshop was to answer the public's questions about which programs were being supported but to her dismay information regarding how the programs themselves were being supported by the funding was not provided. Consortium members still could not answer a single question about which and how programs were being supported with the "budget" proposed. Each year, just over $1 million is allocated to the consortium, but per the 2017-18 budget plan, almost all of it is going to pay for classified staff and employee benefits.

Further discussions during the workshop about the proposed instructional budgets revealed that "instructional" staff is not actually classroom faculty, but rather librarians and a future DSPS part-time counselor. No funding is being used for classroom faculty. Per Kate Alder, Dean of the noncredit division, MiraCosta is paying for all classroom staff for the noncredit division. Laura Makings presented a comment asking why then the adult education funding is not available to provide funding for faculty for the adults with disabilities program given that MiraCosta has refused to pay for full-time faculty for those students. Another parent pointed out how other noncredit departments also get "permanent part-time instructional aides" but that the adults with disabilities program does not. Per the AB86 Plan, the adults with disabilities program is the most in need of improvement but MiraCosta will not approve full-time faculty or permanent part-time aides to help the program improve.

Per the consortium supervisor's presentation, "other operating expenses and services" set forth in the "budget" covered the payment of babysitting so that some students could attend their noncredit classes, catering for events, the hiring of staff to fill out assessment forms for students and other expenses, raising the ire of the public who asked how babysitting and catering can take priority over permanent instructional aides to help students participate in the adults with disabilities program and how no funding is provided to help staff develop future programming or pathways to other programming.

[Other questions raised outside the meeting included questions about: why staff was being hired to fill out student assessment forms instead of the students themselves and whether this affected the validity of the data being taken, why so much classified staff was being hired to handle registration of noncredit students and whether this was supplanting or replacing MiraCosta funding, which are not allowed uses.]

Lynch also questioned the consortium members' retroactive approval of the 2017-18 budget because the annual funding plan on which the budget was based was filed by the consortium's supervisor on August 17, 2017 without board approval or pubic meetings. The annual plan filed with the state included a certification by the consortium supervisor that the consortium had operated in a manner "consistent with all legislative mandates, Consortium and member requirements," when it fact it had not.

Image: Excerpt from the 8/17/17 Annual Plan filed for the 2017-18 school year.

The consortium has come under harsh criticism for its failure to have public meetings between the period of April 2016 and December 2017 as required by state laws and its own governance bylaws. An informal internal review by a state representative confirmed the public's concerns that meetings had not been held. At the budget workshop, Zapata stated he would have liked for the consortium supervisor to have provided the consortium members with the information setting forth the program breakdowns, but the consortium supervisor stated she was not sure how to divide up the funding into the program areas. Members of the public discussed how the consortium supervisor's inability to do so should have been resolved in advance of the meeting so that the program numbers could have been provided during the workshop to both the members and the public.

Instead of tabling the budgets until more details were provided, the consortium members readily approved the proposed budgets, and retroactively approved the 2017-18 budget (the funding for which had already been spent despite no consortium approval or public meetings). Watchdog cannot help but ask why the consortium members failed to make sure that the consortium supervisor adequately prepared for the budget workshop with the information explaining how the four programs prioritized in the AB86 Plan were supported with the funding? Why are they comfortable approving budgets despite being unaware of how the funding was actually being spent. Again, it's the consortium members' responsibilities to approve the funding allocations and to make sure the allocations are consistent with the AB86 plan, but they appear to have delegated this responsibility to a consortium supervisor, who appears to make the allocation decisions on her own.

Other members of the public raised concerns as well that remained unanswered. Advocate Pam Kerr asked why MiraCosta eliminated the noncredit coordinator position and replaced it with a chair position to be held by a math teacher from the noncredit Adult High School division who has no background in working with the actual programs of which he is now chair. The now eliminated noncredit position had been held by associate faculty Krista Warren, who has over 20 years in noncredit class management and instruction and who was recently awarded with the outstanding associate faculty award by the Faculty Association of California Community College. Warren is also on a state field team for the adult education program. Consortium member Kate Alder, MiraCosta's designated representative, quickly interrupted the comment stating that it was not a consortium issue.

Advocate Trish Shortal also raised questions why funding has not been used to create more sections for the adults with disabilities classes up at the Community Learning Center, sharing how in at least one class there were approximately 37 students crammed in a small classroom. She stressed that there is a huge need for additional programming, but that many of these adult students have highly limited transportation options so that they cannot simply move from one campus to another. Watchdog asked a parent to share a screenshot of the summer classes to review the enrollment figures, which showed that the associate faculty who used to serve as the noncredit coordinator was by far the most sought after instructor in the adults with disabilities program.

Per Shortal's comments, families have to sign onto MiraCosta's Surf program (the enrollment program) just after midnight once enrollment opens in order to get space in the class lead by associate faculty Krista Warren and even with such effort, students are often waitlisted because the class fills up so quickly. Despite the huge demand for Warren's instruction, her extensive background with noncredit and working in both workforce and programs for those with disabilities, her involvement at the state level by being on one of the state's field teams for the adult education program, and her award for being the outstanding associate faculty for the year in the state, parents are confused why this instructor continues to be sidelined instead of at the forefront of the consortium planning discussions and programming development.

Having grown weary of the lack of consortium transparency, members of the public have also appeared before the MiraCosta Board asking questions about the board's lack of oversight of the consortium's use of funds, and raising questions about why MiraCosta's administration was allowed to use consortium funding during the period between April 2016 and December 2017 without the consortium's approval. On several occasions the public has asked the MiraCosta board for an audit regarding the consortium's expenditures to make sure the funds are being used correctly, and have requested a presentation to answer the public's questions about whether MiraCosta will reimburse the consortium for its use of the funding without approval, but those requests have not been responded to either.

While on May 2018 Alder gave a general presentation about the consortium to the board, once again the public was left empty-handed in terms of answers. Alder completely avoided the issue of whether MIraCosta will reimburse the consortium for its use of the consortium funding between April 2016 and December 2017 without the consortium's approval. There was no mention or evidence either that MiraCosta repaid the consortium the nearly $143,000 of the WIOA funding its administrators improperly used to hire a WIOA grant supervisor.

Representatives of the Women League of Voters have also attended some of the meetings to learn more about the consortium's allocations. But so far, no one has received answers to the questions posed to date. Neil Kelly, of the Community College Chancellor's Office, who monitors the AEBG consortiums, was present at both the consortium's "budget workshop" and the less than ten minute consortium meeting. Maybe now the public will get answers? SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

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