Matt Potter 3:38 p.m., Dec. 10
Southwestern College appoints new board member
Trust continues to be a major issue on campus
April 29 the Southwestern Board of Trustees selected Nora Vargas to fill the position vacated by former trustee William Stewart. In March, only a few months into his term, Stewart resigned from the board. His resignation alluded to the "alleged financial improprieties by past officials of the college [which] have contributed to a genuine erosion of trust on the part of citizens of the community and employees..." Stewart said he was not provided with "real numbers or accurate paperwork" from the district and therefore was unable to do "legitimate planning."
The alleged financial improprieties at Southwestern alluded to by Stewart have resulted in numerous charges against the former superintendent, Raj Chopra, former vice-president of business affairs, Nicholas Alioto, former trustee Yolanda Salcido, and former business operations and facilities manager, John Wilson. They have all pleaded innocent to the pay-to-play corruption charges linked to Southwestern's 2008 Proposition R bond.
Vargas, who was sworn in on April 29, was an alumna of Southwestern according to her application. She is currently the vice-president of Community Engagement for Planned Parenthood of Pacific Southwest.
Vargas steps in at a difficult time. During negotiations earlier this year two campus groups, California School Employee Association and Southwestern Community College Administrators Association accepted what amounts to a 5% pay cut.
Faculty did not a agree to this concession. Eric Maag, president of the Southwestern College Education Association said that further bargaining is contingent on additional information from the state including the "May revise."
Maag wrote in an April 30 email that Southwestern's vice-president of fiscal affairs, Steve Crow, has gotten us some information regarding current year savings which has been helpful to our understanding of the budget and supports the position we have been taking all along. About two weeks ago he [Crow] reported that we currently (as of February) are about $2.7 million ahead of schedule in terms of what we projected in our budget and what we have actually spent. That's great news. On the other hand, the district at large is still claiming the same $5.8 million deficit projection which is clearly outdated."
Maag added that "in the wake of Bill's (former trustee William Stewart) departure, there have been some positive conversations about shared governance and the budget in the SCC (Shared Consultation Committee) and budget committee, but we have a long way to go as trust continues to be a major problem for all constituency groups on campus."
On the appointment of Vargas, Maag offered the personal opinion that "Vargas was a fine choice." He said, "She has experience working with big budgets at Planned Parenthood, she is very outspoken and seems to be an independent thinker...I believe she is really going to be looking after the students first and foremost."