• Admin

Lack of qualifications continues to be an issue at MiraCosta.


Despite numerous complaints about MiraCosta's continued hiring and use of unqualified staff to address known weaknesses in MiraCosta's programming, MiraCosta administrators continue to use low standards when it comes to hiring or appointing people to address the needs of some of its most vulnerable students. The public and students affected by the poor administrative decisions are baffled as to why these administrative mistakes keep happening.

Problems arose when Sunny Cooke (MiraCosta's President) brought in Kate Alder as an interim Dean earlier this year to try to resolve complaints about MiraCosta's use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Adult Ed Block Grant Consortium's funding without the Consortium's approval. Alder was also put in charge of MiraCosta's noncredit division even though she does not have a strong record in noncredit and has no experience working with most of the programs in the noncredit department, especially the Adults with Disabilities program, which was one of the problem areas highlighted through the Consortium's state funded research as needing more support. (MiraCosta's Academic Senate also issued a resolution earlier this year urging more parity to support students with disabilities on its campus and in the Adults with Disabilities program.)

Since last November, members of the public have raised concerns about numerous improprieties relating to MiraCosta's use of the Consortium's funding for various activities including MiraCosta administrators' use of approximately $143,000 of the Consortium's funding for a MIraCosta WIOA grant supervisor (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act), which was not an allowed use or approved by the Consortium. The public also questioned why MiraCosta had used the Consortium's funding in a manner that was inconsistent with the Adult Ed Block Consortium's 3-year implementation plan (AB86 Plan) funded by the state, and in a manner that disregarded the Consortium's approved items set forth in the implementation plan such as its approval to hire full-time faculty for the Adults with Disabilities program. Per the AB86 Plan, full time faculty was supposed to have been hired by 2016. As one advocate at the board meeting commented, "and it's now 2018" and no such faculty has been hired.

Advocates have argued that the Adults with Program needs faculty to write curriculum because per MiraCosta's Administrative Procedure 4020, "only faculty may create, modify, and delete courses and programs ... which are then reviewed by a technical writer, the appropriate department chair and division dean " and others. Unfortunately, at this time, neither the chair nor the Dean of the department have experience working with students in the Adults with Disabilities department and there has never been faculty hired for the Adults with Disabilities Program, only part-time/associate faculty.

Instead of funding classroom faculty or program development training specified in the plan, MiraCosta used the Consortium's funding to pay mostly for classified staff, such as the WIOA grant supervisor position (later eliminated once the public pointed out that MiraCosta improperly used the Consortium's funds for the position), secretaries, clerks, campus aides, noncredit student & faculty support assistants, and student workers to handle various administrative, clerical and registration activities for MiraCosta. Permanent instructional aides were also hired for some noncredit programs, just not for the Adults with Disabilities noncredit program.

Note: The Instructional salaries are for librarian costs, not classroom faculty or associate faculty.

How did this happen? MiraCosta is the Consortium's sole fiscal agent and the sole recipient of the funding. Although it is but one of the Consortium's members, it spent the Consortium's funding between the period of April 2016 and December 2017 without going through the public approval process to get the entire Consortium's approval as required by state law or the Brown Act.

In an attempt to legitimize MiraCosta's use of the Consortium's funds without the Consortium's public approval or without the required public meetings, in June 2018 Alder (a MiraCosta administrator who also serves as the chair of the Consortium), recommended and voted - despite the public's objections -- to approve MiraCosta's use of the Consortium's funds retroactively, despite her acknowledgement at the June meeting that she was not fully aware of how MiraCosta used the funds or which programs were supported during the period in question. Under the Act, the funding decisions are supposed to be made by the Consortium members, but if the Consortium members do not know how the money is being spend, who IS making the decisions about where the funding goes? (Note: The Adult Ed Act requires that the public's comments be circulated publicly, but that has not been done). Ed Code 84905(d)(C).

More importantly though is Alder's questionable handling of items other than her retroactive approval of MiraCosta's use of the Consortium funding without proper approval. For almost a year, members of the public, students and advocates have repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of inclusion of neurodiverse students (those with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays) on MiraCosta's campus despite nearly $1 million in annual block grant funding that started in 2015 to build the adults with disabilities (AwD) program.

Studies show that students with intellectual disabilities and/or developmental delays can dramatically improve their employment outcomes with postsecondary education. The National Council on Disability also recognizes the importance of postsecondary education for this marginalized community and has issued a position paper emphasizing the importance of improving access to postsecondary education. The State of California also passed the Employment First Act which makes employment of those with intellectual disabilities and/or developmental delays one of the state's highest priorities and recognizes postsecondary education as an important tool to help bridge workforce gaps. And, the State of California also enacted the Adult Education Block Grant program (now called the Adult Education Program) to provide supplemental funding to community college consortia to build their noncredit programs for seven student groups, which specifically includes "programs for adults with disabilities." But, until the advocates and students got involved last November, there were almost no courses on campus for these students.

In 2008-09, the Adults with Disabilities program once had nearly 300 students. However, per the the Consortium's enrollment data shared last December, despite the nearly $1 million annual funding to build that and other noncredit programs, the enrollment numbers for the 2016-17 school year revealed that enrollment numbers had dwindled to 134 (see charts below). The public has repeatedly asked the MiraCosta Board, which is listed at the top of the Consortium's governance structure, to conduct an audit to determine how MiraCosta used the Consortium's funding and to make sure MiraCosta used the Consortium's funding for uses under state law and in a manner consistent with the Consortium's grant implementation plan. So far, no audit has been done. (Note most noncredit programs have dwindled from their 2008/09 numbers: For example the ESL program used to be 2,603 in 2008/09, in 2016/17 it was 2,131).

Source: AB 86 Plan, page 70.

Source: CNCAEC Consortium, December 13, 2017 "Enrollment Metrics."

Per many residents, there has historically been no outreach by MiraCosta to recruit students to its AwD program and the lack of outreach, coupled with the lack of course options, felt to many that MiraCosta's administration was intentionally taking measures to keep those with intellectual disabilities and developmental delays off of its campus. Past public comments presented to MIraCosta's board have pointed out how MIraCosta's past noncredit catalogs often neglected to even include the AwD program on its cover along with the other noncredit programs. After students protested for several months that it was discriminatory to include other noncredit programs such as ESL and AHS and not the AwD program, the AwD program was included on a recent mailer to alert readers that a program for adults with disabilities existed on its campus.

To combat the decrease in numbers and lack of MiraCosta outreach, students and families started their own outreach to spread the word about the classes and enrollment procedures using social media campaigns and meetings. As a result, classes on the San Elijo campus are now filling, but much still needs to be done to make sure that local adult transition programs at the school districts in MiraCosta's boundaries are aware of MiraCosta's offerings and to help register the students in those programs (like what is done for other programs) given the tremendous need in MiraCosta's district boundary. The Consortium's research conducted over a two-year period found that less than 2% of the students with disabilities in the area were having their needs met through MiraCosta's programs.

In Fall 2017, residents, students and others began questioning MiraCosta's lack of support for the Adults with Disabilities program given that the Adult Education Consortium's 3-year plan recognized it as one of the 4 prioritized programs to benefit from the Consortium's funding. Advocates were also quick to point out that the Adults with Disabilities program is one of the 7 groups identified by the Act as needing more support and for which the Consortium funding was intended.

Instead of taking steps to strengthen the program, the public noticed that the Noncredit Coordinator position in charge of the AwD program suddenly vanished from MiraCosta's noncredit catalogs. When families brought this to the attention of Associate Faculty Krista Warren to ask her why her position had been eliminated, they learned that she had not been given notice through regular channels and had learned that her position had been eliminated from their inquiries.

Alder had apparently decided to eliminate the Noncredit Coordinator position, held by associate faculty Warren, to instead create a "chair" position so that full-time faculty could perform the functions of the former Noncredit Coordinator position. The problem per many was that the faculty Alder selected to chair the AwD program (instead of the highly experienced associate faculty instructor Krista Warren), had NO experience teaching the students in the program, selecting curriculum for the program or otherwise training teachers to work with the students with intellectual disabilities or developmental delays. By comparison, the chairs of noncredit ESL (English as second language) and of the noncredit Adult High School programs did have experience teaching their related programs. There is no indication that the newly selected faculty had experience working with the other programs supported by the Noncredit Coordinator position such as the seniors or the other student groups which MiraCosta often relegated to "Noncredit Other," a faceless meaningless category.

Per MiraCosta's Administrative Policy 4022, chair/faculty (associate faculty is not referenced) of noncredit courses are supposed to examine the courses for the program, propose course and student learning outcomes and provide other leadership to the programs they serve. A noncredit math faculty without any experience teaching the students in the Adults with Disabilities program does not appear to have the qualifications to justify Alder's appointment of his as Chair of the Adults with Disabilities Program.

Alder's lack of experience working with students with disabilities became glaringly apparent this past summer when she decided to appear at the AwD classes on campus in the middle of the summer term and at the start of the classes to suddenly kick out numerous instructional aides provided for free to MiraCosta by local agencies to help the students with disabilities while on campus. Aides have historically always been allowed in the AwD program classes because they provide free support to the instructors and more importantly to the students, who often have medical, physical and other needs that the aides support.

Section 504 of the Rehab Act requires publicly funded institutions to allow "reasonable accommodations" to students with disabilities, and advocates have argued that free trained support in the classroom to help disabled students access the classrooms and course content should be considered and welcomed as a reasonable accommodation. Instead, they were unexpectedly kicked out without any advance warning by Alder. Alder's position was that the students did not have academic accommodations plans (AAPs) in place to allow the aides in the classes, but the students have never been required to have AAPs in order to have their support aides in the class until Alder came on board and named Angela Senigaglia as the interim chair in charge of the Adults with Disabilities program. (Neither Senigaglia nor Alder have a background working with the students in the Adults with Disabilities Program). The aides, who had supported the students in the classrooms for the first half of the summer term as well as past years, were as surprised as the students when Alder suddenly and swiftly kicked them out of the classrooms at the beginning of the classes.

Alder's unannounced "sweep" of the classrooms resulted in numerous students being forced to leave and miss their class because of their aides being kicked out. It is unclear why Alder chose to take such action in the middle of the term or at the beginning of the students' classes instead of waiting until the end of the class, which would have allowed the students to complete their class for the day and would have prevented the numerous difficulties the students had trying to arrange transportation to pick them up early to get them back to their homes or programs. Advocates argue that she could have easily sent home a notice of her new stance to allow for a smooth transition for the students, aides and agencies, but she chose not to do so. Her insensitive decision to conduct the sweep at the beginning of the class significantly disrupted these students' classes, routines and transportation causing some to have to wait outside in the record setting heat as they waited for transportation to be arranged. To some residents' whose students were affected, this seemed an especially odd action given that neither MiraCosta nor the Consortium have agreed to pay for permanent part-time MiraCosta aides for the Adults with Disabilities program like it has done for some of the other noncredit programs.

Alder also told the students if they misbehaved or refused to leave, the campus police would be called. At the July Board meeting, an advocate shared how after Alder kicked out the aides, her son had asked to stay in the Community Learning Center class because he was properly enrolled and was not misbehaving. Apparently no one had misbehaved in his class so that students did not understand why Alder had appeared to warn them of possible police action. Unfortunately, despite the student's valid protests, he too was required to leave and miss his class after being told the police would escort him out if he refused to leave. Alder appears to have only alerted the students in the Adults with Disabilities program of potential police engagement for conduct problems, apparently singling them out. So much for inclusion, equity and diversity MiraCosta.

Source: MiraCosta College 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 Catalogs.

After Alder's classroom sweeps, several residents and students appeared at the MiraCosta's July Board meeting urging the Board and Dr. Cooke to take corrective action. Some students even shared how they are now scared to go to their classes because they fear the police being called on them again demonstrating her lack of awareness of how her actions could impact these students. Yet despite creating fear in these students, causing students to lose class time unnecessarily, causing disruption with the Consortium's noted community partners, no corrective action appears to have been taken against Alder despite the interim nature of her position. As one parent noted during the public comments before the Board, if Alder had singled out the ESL classes for her "police action" warning, there is no doubt her actions would have been deemed discriminatory and coupled with swift action. An advocate shared at the Board meeting in July how she tried to meet with Alder shortly after this sweep to try to understand why she suddenly did this, but was told Alder was "on vacation" and never heard back.

In addition to having induced fear in some students, Alder's actions may also result in the students' loss of funding from local agencies to pay for the support aides, which may in turn force them to drop out of MIraCosta altogether. Agencies have tried to meet with Alder to resolve the issues.

Comments have been posted publicly asking why MiraCosta's Board and why Dr. Cooke have kept Alder in charge of the noncredit program given her lack of experience with the adults with disabilities program, lack of knowledge with how the critical partnership relationships work to support the students with supports in the classrooms at no cost to MiraCosta, and the significant negative impact Alder's actions had on the students with themselves. There is also growing concern about whether Alder even has the experience needed to run noncredit or why Cooke put her in charge of the noncredit program.

But how about Alder's appointment of faculty chairs to head the AwD program who have no experience? An advocate pointed out to the Board that the hiring of chairs to head up the noncredit ESL and AHS programs without experience would not have been allowed so why is MiraCosta's administration allowing the appointment of chairs to head the AwD program without experience in those programs, instead of allowing the 25 year veteran Krista Warren to continue so that the staff and students have the benefit of her expertise.

A review of MiraCosta's catalog for 2017-18 listed the chairs for Adult High School and ESL, both of whom are instructors in their respective programs, unlike the new chairs Alder appointed for the adults with disabilities and "general" noncredit programs. The chair of the Adults with Disabilities program is listed under "General Noncredit and Short-Term Vocation," without a mention of the Adults with Disabilities program as if it does not exist. Per advocates, Alder selected a noncredit English teacher from the Adult High School program (Angela Senigaglia) to serve as the program's interim chair during the summer, and a math teacher to serve as the "chair" for the school year. Alder's actions once again make no sense to the public given the new chairs' lack of experience with the Adults with Disabilities, Senior and Short-Term Vocational programs. Sunny Cooke seems to approve of these actions affecting the students in the Adults with Disabilities program because she has allowed them to proceed without any concern that the new chairs Alder appointed to "lead" the "General Noncredit Program" have no experience in the program areas served under that heading.

As one advocate stated, Cooke's failure to correct these actions "reflect her utter lack of interest in what happens to our community's students in the Adults with Disabilities program. All she cares about is sucking the college's money from other programs to put into her biotech program." But it's not just the noncredit students with disabilities or the noncredit Adults with Disabilities program feeling the brunt of Cooke's actions. Numerous staff and students have appeared before the Academic Senate objecting to Cooke's cut of approximately $100,000 from MiraCosta's Tutoring and Academic Support Center (TASC), which helps students with learning disabilities succeed in MiraCosta's credit programs.

As noted in the faculty program reviews, finding staff with experience in the AwD program areas are very difficult to find and yet Alder gets rid of the ONLY person at MiraCosta with that experience, again with the apparent approval of Dr. Cooke and Alder's immediate boss Diane Dieckmeyer, who once claimed the Consortium funding had not been used for the AwD program because the Consortium had cut the funding even though the Consortium's AB86 plan said it should be used for the AwD program, and even though the Consortium minutes demonstrated that no such cuts had been made. Dieckmeyer also confused the Adult Ed Block grant's seven funding categories under state law with the AEBG's reporting data metrics to track the delivery of services to the programs and tried to argue that the AwD program was simply a subcategory, ignoring the state law. The AEBG state rep corrected this in a written email. Yet, these administrators are the people Dr. Cooke has put in charge of the noncredit program and the AEBG Consortium.

To those following the events over the last year there's no question why so many problems have occurred. Dr. Cooke is simply hiring the wrong people to be in charge of the AwD program. Watchdog wonders when, if ever, Dr. Cooke and her team will stop putting people in charge of the AwD program who have no real experience with its students or programming. Why not treat it like the other noncredit programs and put people with experience in the programs in charge?

Watchdog can't help but notice that these problems with the AwD program (and the AEBG Consortium for that matter) did NOT happen when Krista Warren was in charge. Seems like everyone except MiraCosta's relatively recent administration recognizes that Warren is a top dog educator. (Watchdog pun intended!). She was presented with the top associate faculty award for the state. She was selected by California's AEBG office to be on its field teams. She has been selected to give presentations on the programs she serves and has over 25 years experience. And yet ....

One thing is clear, recent changes are not adhering to MiraCosta's institutional goals of providing "superior educational opportunities and students support services to a diverse population of learners with a focus on their success," or a "vanguard educational institution committed to innovation and researched best practices," or being an "institution where each student has a high probability of achieving academic success." What is unclear is whether the goals of institutional excellence, inclusion and diversity not apply to students in the Adults with Disabilities program.

By comparison, other community colleges have embraced neuro-diverse students and have been aggressively building their AwD programs to make sure the needs of students in their community who have disabilities have meaningful access to their campuses. MiraCosta's failure to embrace its students with the same vigor is gaining more attention as the months pass.

Because of the lack of collaboration, corrective action and ongoing missteps by administration, students and others have reported that they feel they have no recourse other than to start filing complaints with California Community Colleges and consulting with attorneys to share their concerns about the lack of equity and discriminatory practices. Student and others have started contacting the Disability Rights of California agency as well to share their concerns about recent events and other existing practices.

In the interim, students continue to urge MiraCosta to include adults with disabilities in its future equity plan (they were not included as a group in the past plan) to help MiraCosta better understand the inequity, exclusion and isolation that currently impacts some of its students. They are also urging MiraCosta to finally, for the first time, hire full-time faculty for the Adults with Disabilities program (like what the Consortium's AB86 Implementation Plan said to do) to finally build the noncredit program for students with disabilities like what it has done for students in other noncredit programs. Until then, residents and students will continue to ask why the Board keeps allowing these things to happen and why it is not making Sunny Cooke, who the Board hired, to make changes to stop these known problems.


© 2018 MiraCosta Watchdog