Friday, November 20, 2009

Vetoes of higher education reform bills cause turmoil

Officials worry about fate of UC/CSU system

Governor Schwarzenegger's vetoes of three higher education bills on Oct. 11 has sparked outrage among many in the education sector.

Introduced by Senator Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), SB 86, 218 and 219 aimed to reform the UC/CSU system, mainly by altering their fiscal systems to be more transparent to the public.

SB 86 and SB 218 had bipartisan support from the State Assembly and Senate. SB 86 would have eliminated executive pay raises during bad budget years, or when the current year's budget is less than or equal to the preceding year's at UC and CSU institutions.

Schwarzenegger said in a veto message that he felt the bill would limit the flexibility for the UCs and CSUs to attract and retain high level employees.

In July, the UC Board of Regents approved salary increases for executives at the same time it was voting on furloughs, fee hikes and other cutbacks.

UC spokesperson Leslie Sepuka said the UCs felt that the bill was unnecessary and deemed it micromanagement.

SB 218 would have required foundations and other auxiliary non-profits connected with the state's public universities and colleges to make their handling of money and other operations more visible to the public.

Twenty percent of the CSU $6.7 billion budget, or $1.34 billion, is held in auxiliaries and foundations, according to the CSU Chancellor's Office. This portion is currently out of public view.

The California Faculty Association was not happy with 218's veto.

"It would appear that [the governor's] public commitment to transparency and accountability is only lip-service," said CFA President Lillian Taiz in a press release. "When given the opportunity to provide the public with real, meaningful transparency in its public universities - he failed miserably."

The UC system agreed with the governor's decision.

"Subjecting university foundations to oversight that far exceeds that applied to other nonprofits will send the wrong message to our donors and volunteers who unselfishly give their time and philanthropy to the university," said Leslie Sepuka, UC spokesperson. "SB 218 is attempting to address an issue that does not exist for our foundations."

The third vetoed bill, SB 219, would have provided UC employees who report waste, fraud and abuse with the same legal protections as other state employees.

"The governor has failed to keep his promise of bringing greater sunshine to government agencies," said Yee in a press release. "While he talks a lot about government waste, he vetoes the only bills to actually provide public oversight and accountability. His vetoes are certain to allow further scandal at these public institutions and will only result in fewer philanthropic dollars at a time when they are needed more than ever."

Sepuka disagreed, and said UC is committed to protecting the rights of "whistleblowers" and will continue to believe that a fair and open administrative review process is the best means to resolve whistleblower complaints.

"The use of the courts should be reserved for exceptional cases," Sepuka said. "Although the university offered to accept whistleblower complaint provisions that would provide whistleblowers access to the courts under specified circumstances - similar to provisions that currently apply to CSU - the author rejected our proposed compromise."

Communications Director Fred Glass of the California Federation of Teachers was not surprised by the governor's actions.

"The governor's priorities are all wrong," Glass said. "He's more interested in raising fees and tuition than he is in financial fairness. He's blocking access to public education. This is ironic because he benefited from community colleges in California many years ago."

Yee's Chief of Staff Adam Keigwin said the senator is working on a similar legislative package to reintroduce next year. Yee hopes a change of language will garner the governor's signature, possibly compounding the bills until there is a new governor.

In November, the Board of Regents is voting on whether they should raise student fees by 30 percent next year.

In terms of solutions to the budget problem, Glass said the California Federation of Teachers is sponsoring AB 655. This bill would create an oil severance tax of 9.9 percent that could raise over $1 billion for public education in California. California is the only one of the 21 oil producing states that doesn't have this tax.

Written by Angela Swartz
Staff Writer
Published on Oct 19, 2009
source: http://theaggie.org/article/2009/10/19/vetoes-of-higher-education-reform-bills-cause-turmoil
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached city@theaggie.org.
Interact

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Please support SB 219 visit FELLOW ALUM State Senator Leland Yee's site:

http://dist08.casen.govoffice.com

or
http://www.reformtheuc.com

and sign the petition (it just requires your name and email address) to voice your support of SB 219 - a bill to finally protect UC whistle blowers. Read the stories on the right if you need help to understand why this is important. Many thanks!

UC Whistleblower Protection Bill Sent to Governor
Monday, August 24, 2009

Yee authors legislation in response to state Supreme Court decision

SACRAMENTO – On a 22-14 vote, the California State Senate today approved legislation to provide University of California employees who report waste, fraud and abuse with the same legal protections as other state employees. Despite overwhelming support from open government advocates and UC students, faculty, and workers, the University administration continues to oppose the measure authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo).

“This is the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, and yet another example of UC administrators opposing a commonsense reform,” said Yee. “UC executives should not be judge and jury on whether or not they are liable for monetary claims. This was not the intent of California’s whistleblower law.”

In July 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled (Miklosy v. the Regents of the University of California (S139133, July 31, 2008) that UC employees who are retaliated against because they report wrongdoing cannot sue for damages under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act, so long as the University itself reviews the complaints in a timely fashion. The ruling uncovered an oversight made by the Legislature when the Act was amended in 2001, which provided legal standing for all other state employees to seek damages.

“In light of the Court’s ruling, it is imperative that the Governor sign SB 219 to immediately correct this statute and protect UC workers from unfair retaliation for rightfully reporting waste, fraud, or abuse,” said Yee.

While the Court was unanimous in their ruling, three of the seven judges urged the Legislature to consider changes to the law, as the current statute undermines the purpose of the Act.

“The court’s reading of the Act, making the University the judge of its own civil liability and leaving its employees vulnerable to retaliation for reporting abuses, thwarts the demonstrated legislative intent to protect those employees and thereby encourage candid reporting,” wrote Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, joined by Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Carlos Moreno. “If the same government organization that has tried to silence the reporting employee also sits in final judgment of the employee’s retaliation claim, the law’s protection against retaliation is illusory.”

The Miklosy decision deals with the plight of two former scientists at UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who repeatedly told their supervisors about equipment problems and poorly trained operators of a project designed to determine the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. One of the scientists, Leo Miklosy, was fired in February 2003 and the other, Luciana Messina, resigned a few days later after overhearing a supervisor say she would also be fired.

“This issue is tailor-made for Senator Yee,” said Terry Francke, General Counsel for Californians Aware. “SB 219 will resolve the ambiguity in statute referenced by the Supreme Court and will ensure that all UC employees are given the same real – and not illusory – whistleblower protections as other state employees.”

“We are especially pleased to see Senator Yee address this issue,” said Scott Amey, General Counsel for The Project on Government Oversight. “Whistleblower cases should require an independent evaluation of the retaliatory actions against employees. Without independent evaluation, UC whistleblowers are left out in the cold.”

In addition to Californians Aware, SB 219 is supported by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), California Psychiatric Association, California Newspaper Publishers Association, California Nurses Association, Council of University of California Faculty Associations, First Amendment Coalition, The Greenlining Institute, State Employees’ Trades Council, and the University of California Student Association.

SB 219 is one of several good governance proposals opposed by the UC Board of Regents.

Once received, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Los Angeles) will have twelve days to sign or veto SB 219.

Yet Another UC Compensation Scandal Renews Calls for Legislation
SACRAMENTO – Last month, the University of California Board of Regents yet again approved exorbitant pay raises for more than two dozen executives. The hikes, which include a 25 percent increase for UC San Francisco’s chief financial officer and pay in excess $500,000 for UCSF’s chief operating officer, were documented in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle.

The latest scandal has renewed calls for legislation currently pending that would limit executive compensation increases in years in which the state budget allocation to the UC has not increased.

The legislation, SB 217 authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), is set to be heard next Wednesday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“The public is tired of the UC administration acting like AIG,” said Yee. “It is imperative that we stop the UC Regents from turning our public university into a private country club. We can ill-afford an administration that continues to disrespect the taxpayers, students, and their low-wage workers and faculty.”

The recent scandal is just the latest of several pay hikes for UC executives in 2009. Earlier this year, the UC handed out 22 percent pay increases for several senior managers and paid exorbitant administrative leave for two former chancellors, receiving over $300,000 and $400,000 a year each. The Regents also approved a $450,000 salary for the new UCSF Chancellor (a 12 percent hike from the previous chancellor) and a $400,000 salary for the new UC Davis Chancellor (a 27 percent hike from her predecessor). UC President Mark Yudof also receives nearly a $1 million in salaries and perks.

These actions come at the same time the Regents approved pay cuts, layoffs, and furloughs for lower wage workers.

“Excessive pay raises and extravagant perks is yet another example of UC executive's misguided choices and misplaced priorities,” said Lakesha Harrison, President of AFSCME 3299. “Workers are being asked to put less food on their families’ tables while UC executives continue to enrich them themselves. Students are asked to pay more but get fewer services. This is outrageous and unacceptable. It is the reason why Californian's need to reform the UC to make it accountable to taxpayers, not their own self interest.”

Senator Yee, along with several Democratic and Republican co-authors, also introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 21 to require the UC to adhere to all state laws. Unlike the CSU, community colleges, and all other public entities, the UC can currently ignore statutes approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor.

SCA 21 has received over 6,000 letters of support from students, faculty, and taxpayers, and is endorsed by AFSCME, University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), University Council of the American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT), California Nurses Association (CNA), Service Employees Trades Council (SETC), California Labor Federation, San Francisco Labor Council, State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Phoenix Project for UC Democracy, among others.

Supporters of the UC reform measures have also launched a Facebook page with over 1,500 fans and a website – www.reformtheuc.com – to call on the Legislature to approve SB 217 and SCA 21, as well as SB 218 (requiring campus auxiliary organizations to adhere to the public records act) and SB 219 (protecting UC whistleblowers).

SCA 21 is currently pending in the Senate Rules Committee; SB 218 will be considered on Wednesday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee; and SB 219 will receive a procedural concurrence vote on the Senate Floor next week before heading to the Governor’s desk.

www.reformtheuc.com

Universities May No Longer Hide Public Funds Or Evade Public Records Act

Universities May No Longer Hide Public Funds Or Evade Public Records Act
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Assembly Appropriations Committee Approves Yee’s Transparency Bill

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Appropriations Committee today approved legislation to ensure greater access to public records at the State’s public higher education institutions – the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges.

SB 218, authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), will bring greater accountability to UC and CSU by updating the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to include auxiliary organizations that receive public funds or perform government functions on state campuses. UC and CSU have often evaded the public records act by shifting some responsibilities to foundations and other auxiliary organizations.

A shocking betrayal of the public trust was recently uncovered at the Sonoma State University Academic Foundation, which used donated funds to provide huge personal loans (now in default) to a former board member. These dollars may never be recovered, resulting in fewer funds for scholarships and other worthy goals.

In another recent incident, a Superior Court judge ruled in July that a CSU trustee had a conflict of interest when, as the chief executive officer of a movie-theater company, he cut a deal for his company to build a movie theatre at Fresno State University.

The CSU argued in court that the conflict of interest law did not apply because the deal was made with the CSU Fresno Association, which they argued was a private entity. Just days prior to the ruling, a CSU lobbyist – in testifying against SB 218 – gave a contradictory response, stating that CSU foundations and auxiliary organizations adhere to state conflict of interest laws.

“With 87 foundations and auxiliaries operating on 23 CSU campuses, the SSU and FSU scandals may be just the tip of the iceberg,” said Yee. “It is imperative that we pass SB 218 to ensure that these organizations comply with the state’s public records act and are held accountable.”

“It creates a noxious brew when we combine large sums of money with little or no public openness. And, it’s an obvious invitation to corruption,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association (CFA), who is a history professor at Cal State Los Angeles.

According to the CSU Chancellor’s Office, 20 percent of its $6.7 billion budget, or $1.34 billion, is held in auxiliaries and foundations, which is out of public view.

“Taxpayers and students deserve to know how their public universities are run,” said Yee. “SB 218 will ensure that our public higher education systems operate in the light of day and are held accountable.”

In 2001, the Fresno Bee newspaper was denied information, specifically concerning the identity of individuals and companies that purchased luxury suites at the Save Mart Center arena at Fresno State. The denial resulted in CSU v. Superior Court (McClatchy Company), in which the Court opined that although it recognized university auxiliaries ought to be covered by the CPRA and that its ruling was counter to the obvious legislative intent of the CPRA, the rewriting of the statute was a legislative responsibility.

“Placing college and university auxiliaries under the authority of the state's public records act will safeguard the use of public funds and provide much needed accountability and oversight to state policymakers,” stated John Travis, Humboldt State University professor and legislative committee chair for the CFA.

“SB 218 reinforces the need for greater transparency and open government,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “This bill ensures that students, the legislature and the public will have access to detailed information about how over $1 billion annually is moved through these government agencies.”

SB 218 will be considered next by the full Assembly.
source: http://dist08.casen.govoffice.com/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={6A5E9BF4-E0EF-40DF-8C37-AD772F061EAD}

UC, CSU Hypocrisy Sends Executive Pay Bill Into Suspense

UC, CSU Hypocrisy Sends Executive Pay Bill Into Suspense
Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Senator Yee’s legislation would prohibit pay raises for top executives in bad budget years

SACRAMENTO – Legislation to prohibit executive pay raises during bad budget years at the University of California and the California State University was sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee suspense file today after UC and CSU administrators hypocritically argued that the bill would cost millions of dollars. UC and CSU administrators have used the complete opposite argument to push furloughs for lower wage workers as a cost-savings measure.

Typically, bills are moved to the “suspense file” that are estimated to impose significant state costs. However, in the case of SB 217, the Senate Appropriations Committee overwhelmingly approved the bill earlier this year and the Assembly Appropriations Committee’s own fiscal analysis estimates cost-savings as a result of the bill.

“It is unconscionable that the CSU Chancellor’s office and the UC President’s office argue that a freeze on executive pay hikes would cost the universities a dime,” said Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo, the bill’s author. “Unfortunately, the hypocrisy and doublespeak continues by UC and CSU administrators. SB 217 will ensure that top execs are not living high on the hog, while the students and faculty are unfairly suffering.”

In 2009 alone, the UC Board of Regents has already approved approximately $9 million in executive compensation increases.

At the last Regents meeting in July, several executives were appointed at salaries from 11 percent to 59 percent higher than their predecessors. The Regents also voted to give “administrative stipends” ranging from $24,000 to $58,625 to several employees, without any extra duties, and added several new highly paid executive positions.

All told, the Regents approved nearly $2 million in monetary compensation increases at just one meeting. That is in addition to other forms of compensation including generous pension plans, travel allowances, housing, and access to low-interest loans. UC President Mark Yudof also receives nearly a $1 million in salaries and perks.

Since 2002, top administrators at CSU have also received raises in excess of 23 percent.

“The same argument that the UC and CSU makes to furlough their rank-and-file employees should also apply to people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Yee. “They seem committed to going down the same egregious path as AIG and other Wall Street corporations by providing for their top executives and hurting everyone else.”

SB 217 will not be eligible to move until next week when the Assembly Appropriations Committee considers which bills come off suspense and which bills die.
source:http://dist08.casen.govoffice.com/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={6A5E9BF4-E0EF-40DF-8C37-AD772F061EAD}
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