Faculty fights for fairness amidst contract negotiations with the district


Joe Selzler, chemistry professor at Ventura College, grades papers as he protests the Trustees' proposal during the open session meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Camarillo, Calif. According to Selzler, full-time professors have gone three years without a raise, and a fourth would be, "redunkulous." Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

By Ryan Bough

Along with the start of the fall semester, teachers have not only been working on classes but also participating in union negotiations with the Ventura County Community College District Board of Trustees. These negotiations follow the end of their previous contract that expired on Jun. 30, 2019.

Tensions have increased between both the faculty and district members due to an inability to reach fair terms for the next contract. According to trustee members, the budget does not contain enough flexibility to increase wages and retain current health care benefits. The trustees plan to switch from their current plan, to the cheaper California Public Employees’ Retirement System, also known as CalPERS.

“Our faculty enjoy very rich medical benefits …” said Trustee Diane McKay. “I don’t blame them for wanting to keep it, I don’t see how we can provide additional compensation without some compromise on a health plan.”

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Chancellor Greg Gillespe, left, and Trustee Chair Dianne McKay address protesters during an open session bard of trustees meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10. The meeting was held at the district office in Camarillo, Calif. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

In comparison, Trustee Josh Chancer believes that the district is holding onto more money than necessary.

“Also, there are frustrations that I believe are legitimate in regards to financial resources not reaching students. The district currently has a 43% reserve, valued at 78 million dollars. The state requires 5%, yet we have students that can not get the classes they need in order to graduate and transfer,” said Chancer. “This is unacceptable. The district has the ability to repurpose a larger share of this reserve, for the benefit of students.”

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Faculty and staff from Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura Colleges assemble in the open session Board of Trustees meeting to protest the current negotiations on Tuesday, Sept. 10, in Camarillo, Calif. According to most professors in attendance, they would prefer to keep their current health plan. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

Many passionate teachers also question whether these funds could also be used for faculty salaries. In Ventura County, many professors may struggle with living expenses and are pursuing the expectation of fair treatment. One of these teachers campaigning for fairness is Moorpark history professor, Patty Colman.

“It’s really apparent to us all that the district actually has a huge amount of money in reserve and we’re just asking for fairness,” said Colman. “Our college, Moorpark, is No. 4 in the nation and we’re extremely proud of that, but as far as our compensation goes, we are near the bottom in the state.”

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Patty Colman, history professor at Moorpark College, explains her experience as an educator to the Board of Trustees during the open session meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10. According to Colman, professors are not paid enough in comparison to the duties that they maintain. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

When asked, Trustee Chancer weighed in on the subject of the reserves. “I think the district wants and needs to protect itself against economic uncertainty, but my point in repeatedly bringing up our current $79 million dollar reserve, is how big is too big? I think there are urgent needs for a board conversation to address our district’s current reserve status moving forward,” Chancer said. “I believe we can and should access more of our own resources that could be focused on student success and providing expanded programs at the three colleges. The responsible way to get there is with a reserve policy that the community can get behind and support.”

According to the research department of the California Federation of Teachers, the Ventura County Community College District is ranked at 70 out of 72 in California for entry level professor salaries meaning that it is the third lowest in the state. A first year professor has a salary of $48,751. As reported by the California Association of Realtors, the median price for a single family residence in Ventura County was $685,000 as of July 2019. Michael Sheetz, the executive director of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, was a prominent voice at the meeting presenting these facts.

“We have not had substantial raises in the last three years. Part time faculty got some small raises over the last two years, but full time faculty has gotten 0% raise for three years,” said Sheetz. “They are currently offering to reduce our health benefits in exchange for a very small raise spread out over three years.”

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Michael Sheetz, the Executive Director of the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers, speaks to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at the district office in Camarillo, Calif. Sheetz spoke on the behalf of many union members. Photo credit: Evan Reinhardt

A recent survey from Collaborative Brain Trust, a community college consulting firm, found that 45% of the 713 faculty surveyed, did not believe that their department has adequate faculty or staff to achieve their goals. 45% also stated that they do not believe they are paid fairly for their work.

Negotiations are still ongoing and many people involved cannot comment. According to the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers negotiations update as of Sept. 13, the district chief negotiator was considering impasse. An impasse occurs when an employer and a union are unable to reach an agreement and believe that further negotiations would be pointless.

For further information on current negotiations go to the Ventura County Community College District website or the Ventura County Federation of College Teachers website.

The next Board of Trustees meeting will be held on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m.