Category Archives: peralta

March 2 action

Walkout, rally and march to the District against budget cuts

Wednesday, March 2

Short rally starts at 12 noon on the Laney quad

March to the District (333 E. 8th St.) at 12:30

Look for the SUP flags and banners.

The students of Laney College stand at an important moment in time. The cuts from the Peralta administration are an attack on us. Every budget cut takes control over our education and our future out of our hands. The cuts take different shapes and hurt us in different ways. Not only as students, but as people of color, as queer people, as mothers, as working class peoples, as disabled people – all of us have been shown nothing but neglect and contempt by the administration. As the most precarious populations at our school, we are always the most affected by the cuts.

One of these populations is transgendered people. There are no safe spaces for transgendered people to use the bathroom on campus, and often trans people face harassment and confusion when dealing with students and faculty. As of last year, all students have also been forced to pay a fee for non-existant health services such as counseling – so for trans people there is often nobody to turn to on campus, even though such a service is promised to us. If admin has their way, our situation will only get worse. If we want this to stop, we will all need to stand up for one another and fight back.


Queers Fighting Back (QFB) meets Saturdays at 1 pm, 495 Embarcadero, Oakland

Laney Student Unity & Power



  • 1. last night’s board meeting
  • 2. the district is illegal
  • 3. cycles of struggle
  • 4. cut the cops
  • 5. to those who lose it

  • 1. last night’s board meeting

    After years of mismanagement and blatantly illegal and wasteful spending, the District and the Board of Trustees want to solve their budget crisis on the backs of students and the workers who advise us, teach us, take care of us and clean up after us.

    Last week, word spread that the Board planned to eliminate the positions at Laney of 1.5 Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) workers and cut 21 other positions at Laney from 12 to 11 or 10 months per year. Management approached individual classified workers to tell them about the cuts, in violation of SEIU 1021’s contract. We hear that the reason only Laney workers are being targeted is because Laney’s President volunteered to begin cuts at our school, even though Laney is structurally underfunded by the District to begin with.

    On Monday morning, the Chancellor’s office announced that the Chancellor planned to remove the cuts from the following night’s Board agenda, the result of a deal struck with the leadership of SEIU 1021. All three unions (PFT, SEIU, IUOE) recently started negotiations with the District on their contracts that expire on June 30. Historically, the District has “negotiated” with SEIU and IUOE by laying off their members. The unions’ staff and leadership then try to stop the layoffs by filing charges as they explain to members the need for concessions, that they are doing everything they can behind closed doors and in court, there’s only so much money to go around, how we need to take the fight to Sacramento, etc. etc.

    2. the district is illegal

    As there is “little resistance” to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to raise community college fees from $26 to $36, it’s worth remembering how the District has wasted funds and broken the law, all while blaming “Sacramento” for its problems.

    • In 2009, the administration illegally gave itself a pay raise.  The Board refused to act, and later made the pay raise official.
    • In 2009, the Peralta Board of Trustees approved a no-bid contract with Chevron to install solar panels, “despite indications a bidding process could have saved the district $1.5 million.”
    • The District administration failed to file a federal IRS tax return in 2008-09, leading to a $228,520 fine. (Former Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith was finally fired and escorted out of a Board meeting by a Sheriff in Jan. 2010.)
    • District mismanagement and lack of Board oversight led to Peralta being placed on probation by the State Accreditation Commission. In 2010 the Board hired an audit team to put together its first budget in about 1 ½ years. The audit team has cost at least $750,000 so far, probably much more.
    • In July 2010 the Alameda County Grand Jury wrote that “The board as a whole has failed to provide the leadership for the district to which they were elected.” They also cited Board members’ repeated violation of District policies, like Trustee Marcie Hodge’s shopping sprees with a District credit card.

    Cuts are redefining the purpose of community college after previous waves of struggle by independent, militant social movements led by disabled people, single moms and Black working-class youth opened access to community colleges. They also used political demands to decide for themselves what they learn in class and how the school relates to their community.

    3. cycles of struggle

    DSPS workers say that cuts targeting their program are illegal as well. A federal mandate says that community colleges have to provide equal access for students with disabilities. This comes from the militant struggle of disabled people to force the federal government to pass Section 504, regulations that force any institution that receives federal funding to remove obstacles and provide equal access, regardless of cost, to people with disabilities:

    No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

    In 1977, coordinated sit-ins across the U.S. took place to demand that the federal government create regulations to enforce the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973. The San Francisco sit-in of as many as 200 people with disabilities lasted over a month, making it the longest sit-in at a federal building in U.S. history. Without caregivers or equipment, some risked death, but they were supported and cared for by broader circles of movements; Panthers served them meals.

    During the 1977 San Francisco sit-in for Section 504.

    This is the history that the District, Laney administration and Board of Trustees are trying to erase. When the threat of a civil rights complaint was raised at a  recent Peralta Board meeting, PFT-endorsed Trustee Linda Handy told people with disabilities and their advocates to “bring it on.”

    We need to be equally brave in our defense of movement victories, especially in a time of austerity. It’s expensive for the state to continue to expropriate surplus value as the rate of capital accumulation declines. We refuse debt, we refuse schools that exist solely to make us good workers and governable subjects, and we refuse to allow capital to “cut” the lives of single moms, disabled folks and poor people when it runs out of ways for us to produce value for our masters. And to do all this we need to recompose ourselves to defend each other, take control of our schools, win the social wage we need to take care of ourselves and ultimately to destroy the state: Laney cuts back.

    4. cut the cops

    Students and cops have nothing in common. We mourn the life of Guy Jarreau, Jr., a member of the Napa Valley College Black Student Union and childcare worker who was recently murdered by a cop while shooting a music video.

    Later in the agenda on Tuesday, the Board approved a new contract with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to patrol our campuses. This is the same agency that arrested and beat us during the Oscar Grant protests, that surrounded Wheeler Hall in riot gear during our friends’ occupation, that patrols our neighborhoods and runs immigration status checks as part of the “Secure Communities” program. We want these armed men to stay away from us and stay off of our campus.

    Instead, the cops are a typically wasteful arm of the District. The Sheriffs are one of the few areas of the budget that come from the discretionary unrestricted general fund, meaning that the Board has the freedom to replace the pigs or remove them altogether. Instead, the Sheriffs went $1 million over-budget in 2008, a fact that was only discovered when outside auditors dug through the District’s records over a year later.

    On Tuesday, the Board approved $2.67 million for Alameda County Sheriffs, $415,920 for Securitas thugs and $354,000 for student safety aides. Here’s a breakdown of where the Sheriffs budget is going:

    Position Number of Employees Salary Benefits Total
    Lieutenant 1 $139,035 $82,617 $221,652
    Sergeant 1 $114,562 $69,053 $183,615
    Deputy 7 $671,880 $426,319 $1,098,199
    Sheriff’s Technicians 5 $279,869 $29,349 $309,218
    Secretary 1 $50,004 $154,319 $204,323
    Total 15 $1,225,350 $761,657 $2,017,007

    Other costs:

    Overtime $158,077
    Indirect costs $284,579
    Insurance $83,481
    Supplies $124,374

    One man, this Lieutenant, makes more than any worker at Peralta, including faculty, classified staff and custodians. And while the Sheriffs’ secretary may need therapy to cope with taking orders from uniformed men with clubs, over $150,000 in benefits for a single person seems excessive as the District demands health care givebacks from classified workers at the bargaining table.

    Kids from the Laney Child Care Center walk out on Oct. 7, 2010.

    5. to those who lose it

    District-wide, there were 1,992 fewer students on January 23, 2011 than there were on January 20, 2010. Every semester, we watch Laney deteriorate: fewer class sections, fewer students, overworked custodians struggle to pick up all the discarded plates, papers, cigarette butts. And it’s sad to watch the organizations that are supposed to represent our interests manage their own decline. But we fight for ourselves, our friends who have already been pushed out, and the single moms, disabled students and custodians in struggle.

    Panthers at Peralta

    Panthers at Peralta

    SUP draws inspiration from the birth of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966 when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale met as students on 57th and Grove St. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) at Merritt College. Unlike today’s view of Peralta as a job training hub, the Panthers saw the campus as “not a typical institution for so-called higher learning. Grove Street College is what is called a community college: a place where, for a variety of reasons, people who don’t have an opportunity to attend larger colleges and universities go to seek knowledge and hope for a better life.” The Grove Street campus also represented a base for organizing the neighborhood and a place to demand self-determination for Black and all oppressed people via community control of the curriculum, operations and facilities of the College. While engaged in militant resistance to the District, rank-and-file Panther women built counter-institutions to reproduce their culture of struggle.

    This piece is an effort to remember the lessons of their struggle.


    Study and care


    When Huey met Bobby

    Central to the early Panther organizing at Merritt was the reinvention and radicalization of then-dominant liberal community organizing, Maoist anti-capitalist anti-imperialism and cultural nationalism, all rooted in the ghettos and traditions of Black struggle in the Oakland Flatlands. In these early years, Newton, Seale and other Merritt students from the Flatlands viewed mainstream white supremacist public education as a key site of struggle. Newton and Seale took classes at Merritt at a dynamic time when the Afro-American Association was a prominent fixture on Bay Area campuses. Robert O. Self writes that the Afro-American Association (which included Ron Dellums)

    embraced a nationalism that fused black capitalism, Afro-centrism and Garveyite self-help…[the] Afro-American Association and the emerging black studies courses at Merritt College and the University of California at Berkeley began to circulate an eclectic collection of texts among black students in the East Bay flatlands: James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Kwane Nkrumah’s Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, E Franklin Frasier’s Black Bourgeoisie, classics by W.E.B. DuBois, the revolutionary writings of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong, and Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

    In Seize the Time, Bobby Seale writes that while these texts were influential to his political development, Newton and others ultimately broke with the AAA for two reasons. Newton emphasized action including militant self-defense, for example by “throwing hands” on whites who tried to disrupt an AAA rally. Newton also felt that the AAA’s black capitalism was another form of domination of the Black working class: [Newton] “would explain many times that if a Black businessman is charging you the same prices or higher, even higher prices than exploiting white businessmen, then he himself ain’t nothing but an exploiter.”

    After Newton and Seale first met in 1966, they formed the Soul Students Advisory Council, a Merritt student group with cultural nationalist students and precursor to today’s Black Student Unions. Seale writes that the SSAC organized a large rally of 5-600 Black students at Merritt against the draft of young Black men to fight in Vietnam. But latent disagreements within the group came to the surface when Oakland Police tried to arrest Newton and Seale while Seale recited “Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer,” an anti-war poem with a political critique of education. Newton, Seale and their friends fought the OPD, but were eventually arrested and used SSAC funds to bail themselves out of jail, another source of feuding in the group. The division between Newton and Seale’s community-based anti-capitalist, militant self-defense politics and those of the cultural nationalists came to a head when, according to Seale, Newton proposed to SSAC that on May 19, Malcolm X’s birthday, they “bring these brothers off the block, openly armed, onto the campus, and bring the press down” to show “the racist white power structure that we intend to use the guns to protect our people.” The cultural nationalists disagreed (Seale says they were “scared”), and the Black Panther Party was born.

    Black working class organizing in North Oakland and White New Left students at UC-Berkeley overlapped in dynamic ways; Self writes that “Merritt College and North Oakland emerged as the center of African American radicalism (soon, also, nationally).” The twofold political struggle over the content of classroom education and the production of knowledge outside of the schools via informal study groups was central to the lives of young militants in Oakland and Berkeley in the mid-1960’s. A classic example of this rich political culture is Seale’s account of the awakening of Newton’s explicit political consciousness via Fanon:

    One day I went over to his house and asked him if he had read Fanon. I’d read Wretched of the Earth six times. I knew Fanon was right…but how do you put ideas like his over? Huey was laying up in bed, thinking…plotting to make himself some money on the man. He said no, he hadn’t read Fanon. So I brought Fanon over one day. That brother got to reading Fanon, and man let me tell you, when Huey got ahold of Fanon, and read Fanon, Huey’d be thinking hard….We would sit down with Wretched of the Earth and talk, go over another section or chapter of Fanon, and Huey would explain it in depth. It was the first time I ever had anybody who could show a clear-cut perception of what was said in one sentence, a paragraph, or chapter and not have to read it again. He knew it already.

    After the assassination of Malcolm X in April 1965, Newton – then an engineering student at Merritt – decided to start a formal Black history course. Newton bought a $35 UC-Berkeley library card to gain access to African and Black American history texts and started the Black History Fact Group, which “met three times a week at his house.” Seale describes how Newton’s in-class resistance produced the first Black Studies course:

    Huey took an experimental Sociology course. I guess he’d been at Merritt a few years then. This experimental sociology course: he was running down to me how the course was for those in it to deal with some specific problem in society, and he swung the whole class to the need for Black History in the schools. Huey P. Newton was one of the key people in the first Black History course, along with many of the other people in the experimental sociology course.

    But the story continues. When next semester Merritt had its first “Negro History” course in Fall 1965, it was taught by a White liberal “teaching American history…in the old traditional way they relate to black people in slavery.” Seale invited Newton to a class, where Huey took over and corrected the teacher’s errors on the history of the slave trade in Africa.

    Today in the student movement this dimension of struggle over the political content of education is largely secondary to budgetary demands. These are lessons to be relearned: the development of a positive set of demands, the intimacy of small groups reconciling political theory with their lived experiences, to sit in a friend’s bedroom and talk about Fanon.


    Practicing community control

    After World War II, working class Black families in West Oakland resisted the construction of new highways and above-ground BART lines that bulldozed their formerly tight-knit community and caused many families to lose their homes, forcing them to relocate to East Oakland. (Now largely deserted, Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 57th St. is split in half by brutalist concrete BART pillars.) War on Poverty programs of course failed to create wealth in the Black community, even as they increased the community’s interaction with and dependence on the Welfare State. In this context, the social reproduction and survival of the Black working class in the Flatlands became an evermore central concern of the liberal state as it attempted to respond to the Watts insurrection and the growth of confrontational, strategic direct action aimed at forcing employers to hire people of color. It was becoming clearer to Black youth in West Oakland that the white supremacist power structure was systematically eliminating their culture of struggle. This was a social context where the very bodies of people of color–especially those of working-class women and their children, largely excluded from waged labor were–were maintained by the state as “bare life,” each day monitored and reliant upon an increasing number of social workers, bureaucrats, etc. Self-determination was a necessary counter to mid-1960’s interventionist federal and foundation-funded welfare programs that attempted to re-create resistance by channeling it in terms legible to state institutions.

    The Panthers and militant Black and Chicano students across the Peralta colleges fought against budget cuts to classes and aggressively took the offensive to use the Grove Street campus as a space for community programs.  A central focus of the BPP was to recreate and maintain an independent community of resistance through its Community Survival Programs. Panthers – often led by women – created dozens of programs including the innovative Oakland Community School and a child development center where up to 80 kids would be raised collectively during the week and stay with their biological parents on the weekends. Crucially, rank-and-file Panther women created space for themselves within the organization to lead these programs and develop independent black feminist practice and theory. Wherever liberal state institutions brought funding into the flatlands (schools, various welfare programs) the Panthers responded by building counter-institutions focused on care and reproduction meant to rebuild a collective autonomous political identity, beginning at birth.

    The BPP’s first campaign at Merritt in 1967 was for the establishment of a full Black curriculum at Merritt. The Black Panther correctly predicted that “THIS TYPE OF CURRICULUM WILL BECOME THE STANDARD THING IN ALL BLACK COLLEGES IN RACIST DOG AMERICA.” In April 1969, the radical newspaper Guardian reported that Chicano students at Merritt won the naming of “a chicano member of the Socialist Workers Party head of a new Mexican-American studies department, free textbooks and meals for needy students and increased hiring of third-world people” when the students “barricade[d] the faculty into their meeting room and threaten[ed] the same to the trustees to win the demands.” This is one of the first examples of direct action at Peralta; it seems that historically, District intransigence makes confrontation necessary.

    The BPP also contested the role of institutions that claimed to serve the community. “As the students and community work together to achieve community control of college boards, they can unite in demanding significant input and participation in the decision-making processes of the schools…and make the schools more relevant to the community,” writes Panther David Hilliard. Childcare in particular was central to the Panthers’ demands. At a Oct. 1972 talk by Huey Newton at Merritt College on Grove St., the Merritt College Reporter  wrote that “The Panther leader said that day care centers must be established ‘to free the women in our society. Blacks are most oppressed in our society, and women are the most oppressed of the oppressed,’ he added.” At Laney, childcare, financial aid and free or affordable books, transportation and food were central demands among students. “A militant fight against cutbacks in financial aid and community services will be waged so that members of the Laney College community can sustain their right to an educational institution which serves the needs of the community,” The Black Panther reported in Nov. 1975. That semester, the Laney Student Council proposed funding free legal services, creating a student/community council to investigate charges of discrimination and find funding for childcare and work-study. “In the area of childcare for students of Laney, the Program will insure the right for free and adequate childcare for both students and faculty members who require this service,” the Panther wrote.

    Today, when the broader student movement is primarily struggling to revive schools that at best only partially serve our interests, we need to remember that these programs were born from struggle over the positive agenda developed independently by a previous generation of working-class people of color for their own survival.


    The battle for Grove Street

    In 1965, taxpayers in the Peralta Community College District approved a $47 million bond issue to finance four new campuses in North Oakland/Berkeley, East Oakland Hills (Merritt), downtown Oakland (Laney) and Alameda (COA). The Grove St. campus became a hub for militant Black organizing and a community resource center serving the Black working class in the neighborhood with a free library and free breakfasts. In response, the Peralta Board of Trustees systematically divested from the North Oakland campus through disproportionately large budget cuts to the campus and a lengthy delay in planned building renovations. According to the Grove Street Grapevine, the Peralta Board “manipulated into insignificance” the individual Black Student Unions “as well as the needs of the communities [the Board] were supposed to represent. Having control of the money for the school programs and the financial aid they played the different schools against each other, making them scramble for pittance…The PCCD’s budget is one of their most closely guarded secrets.” The Peralta budget is still a mystery: for two years, Peralta simply didn’t pass a budget until April 2010. The current Peralta budget is still little more than a cryptic ledger without serious input from students and workers.

    The Panthers and their allies responded to the District’s divide/co-opt/conquer strategy in several ways. The Panthers and Black and Chicano student leaders at Peralta studied their enemies and used grassroots organizing and direct action to build power for their communities’ needs. Black students studied and researched in order to develop a political economy of how Peralta functioned as an institution and why the Board of Trustees made the decisions they did. Much of this research was published in The Grapevine, a multiracial radical newspaper based at Grove Street College and The Liberated Reporter, the Grove Street/Merritt BSU’s publication. Black student leaders needed a conscious, united base in order to win their demands. The Black Student Alliance, a union of the Black Student Unions at each of the four colleges, was formed in May 1972 to better coordinate their work and advance a common agenda. David Hilliard writes that the Black Student Alliance had a dual power role, duplicating many of the District’s programs and “institut[ing] a program for free books and supplies; a free transportation program; child care services; a financial aid program; a food program serving good, nutritious food at reasonable prices; and the initiation of relevant courses along with the demand for better instructors.”

    Once the new Merritt campus in the Hills was opened, the Grove St. campus also remained open for several years at the same time. Rather than lament the slow death of their campus and call for its resurrection, the Merritt BSU turned crisis into an opportunity to build the education they wanted. Militant Black Merritt students built “cadres” including a pre-registration cadre to ensure incoming student sign up for classes at Grove St.; an equipment cadre to take inventory of materials and take action to keep them from moving to the Hills; and medical and day care cadres to organize a community free clinic and childcare for all students and community members who need it. They also planned to use the Grove St. campus as a space for a “People’s University” to continue Merritt’s Revolutionary Studies and ethnic studies programs.

    A Feb. 1971 editorial in The Liberated Reporter calls on Merritt students to stop the removal of equipment and create student committees to replace teachers who took a job at the new campus in the Hills. The editorial  feels fresh today as a rebuke to the broader student movement’s increasingly defensive and confused attempt to “save” education, and is worth quoting at length:

    In Spring, when our new People’s University will really begin, we will have a wonderful opportunity to rebuild or discard those elements of our education we dislike, and to reinforce or introduce those things which we accept as relevant and important. Let us all…use this temporary breakdown in ruling class control of Merritt.

    We are all intelligent and creative people. We all have an idea of what we want to do with our minds and our bodies. We have a right to control our own jobs, our own educations, our own lives and our own destinies.

    …if anyone here has ever been bored or frustrated by the administrative bureaucracy or by backward or reactionary or racist educational philosophy, let them take this opportunity to reorganize the structure of the classrooms themselves, whether they be student, faculty, staff worker, administrator or member of the community. We will turn the powers of the bureaucrats over to the people, through the Community Control Council which we will organize, and which will help us democratically govern our school, from now on.

    This is the strategy of a militant, class-conscious, anti-racist student movement with a positive vision for their own survival.

    Despite community protests that extended its life, the Grove Street campus fell into disrepair and closed due to a series of decisions made by the Peralta Trustees and administration to systematically defund it. An Oct. 1972 issue of The Grapevine reported that “the old Merritt College…was in great danger of being lost to the residents of the North District area because of mismanagement of the $47 million allocated by the taxpayers and inflation, but student and community pressure forced the District to abandon immediate plans for the closing of the Grove Street site.” This ongoing pressure forced the Peralta District to lease facilities in Berkeley in 1973, which would become the Vista campus and later Berkeley City College.

    The Panthers’ legacy of militant resistance to win self-determination continues at Peralta. In 2001, BSU activists and allies took over a Peralta Board meeting to demand the Trustees rename the Merritt College Student Lounge after Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale (they won). Several years later, Peralta contracted with a production company to create a documentary called Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers which was meant to tell the story of the Panthers’ early days. In a July 17, 2007 request for additional funds for the project, the company’s then-executive director and current Peralta Marketing Director Jeff Heyman assures the Trustees that “the district would hold the copyright to the production that might produce a future revenue stream, the proceeds of which would return to the district…The film will show Peralta as a change agent for social change and can be used as a marketing tool.” So continues this cycle of struggle and recuperation.


    Lessons to relearn

    We are often confronted by a legacy of the Panthers as either a detoothed community service organization or all claws. But the BPP experience at Peralta shows the work of a multifaceted organic expression of a specific section of Oakland’s working class to overturn institutions that claim to serve them and remake them into bases for struggle. When the Panthers spoke of occupying a building, it wasn’t (only) to appeal for more funds from the state, but to keep the state away from self-organized community programs. This meant not simply a negation of racist, authoritarian educational institutions, but their redefinition and reuse. As the editorial of the first issue of The Grapevine wrote,

    To the continuing students and student-workers, right-on to the work you have done and the work you have inspired your communities to do, right-on to your moves to secure your community institution, to moving for freedom from oppression, to moving to make this a real community college – in practice. We still have work to do, but we have reached a higher level of organizing and our work will be even more effective in the future. We will win our fight to keep our community college and control it.

    This is a message to today’s student movement. Beyond “demand[ing] affordable, accessible and quality education” or “keep[ing] California’s original promise of higher education” lies the seizure and re-invention of these institutions around fundamental principles of self-determination, self-management and freedom from oppression.

    Beyond cuts

    Thousands of California students understand cuts perfectly well. Poor people who interact with state programs from financial aid to child care and food stamps are always on the verge of being cut: insecurity is a defining characteristic of our lives.

    If, as the San Francisco Business Times recently wrote, “Bay Area community colleges essentially exist to train the local workforce,” then during this prolonged phase of crisis and contraction, one trend is simply to eliminate the unwanted. From Fall 2009 to Fall 2010, Peralta eliminated 591 class sections. During the same period, 8% of the statewide community colleges budget was cut by the State. Hundreds more class sections will be cut this year, mainly via $2.1 million in new cuts to part-time faculty.

    Before 2009, the Peralta Board and administration generally saw access to enrollment as a high priority. In 2009, the number of enrolled students at Peralta exceeded the number of Full-Time Equivalent Students (FTES) funded by the State by 1,000. This means that Peralta received funding for the equivalent of 19,300 students each taking 15 credit hours/week at $4,564.83 per FTES, but actually had the equivalent of 20,300 full-time students enrolled. Now the Board and administration intend on pegging the number of enrolled students to declining FTES funding from the State while seeking out more lucrative international, UC undergraduate and fee-based students. As parts of the District are systematically eliminated, Peralta’s foreign student recruitment office includes “a full-time director who hunts the globe for students and a staff of eight full-time and 14 part-time workers.”

    District-wide, the number of class sections has declined by 23%, while the number of enrolled students has increased by 19% from Fall ’09 to Fall ’10.  This is what Peralta management calls “high productivity,” meaning that the number of FTES per teacher is increasing. In reality, this translates into packed classrooms and stressed-out, mostly part-time, at-will faculty.

    In an attempt to collect funds, Peralta instituted a new collection system for Summer 2010. Students who enroll before the semester begins need to pay up within 10 business days; students who add after the beginning of the term must pay all fines and fees immediately or be dropped from their classes and have their debt sent to collections. As every semester passes, hundreds more East Bay youth will be denied access to Peralta schools, even if enrollment remains steady. Like any gentrification process, it seems almost imperceptible from the outside but clear and alarming to the gentrified.

    As less profitable classes are eliminated, they are replaced by classes determined by capital’s need for workers with certain skill sets. The College of Alameda hosts the Allied Transportation and Logistics Academic Support (ATLAS) program, a series of classes to prepare students for careers in logistics and warehousing. The program is the result of a “a report generated by the Oakland Partnership, a group put together by Oakland’s Chamber of Commerce and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums…The report identified five industries the city should focus on developing, including transportation logistics.” Industry, local government and six community colleges collaborated to receive over $5 million in federal and job training funds for the program.

    Peralta and Laney in particular are developing a reputation as a hub for “green job” training in the fields of energy efficiency retrofits, auditing and sales. The Laney “green jobs” program was designed by an industry advisory council of over 40 companies. On June 29, Peralta announced it had received a $2.9 million federal grant to expand these green programs. This training is directed at the structurally unemployed; the majority in the program are previously incarcerated. “The program…utilizes proven best practices designed to help those who need to be retrained or have been disconnected from meaningful job training opportunities so they can access employment that will pay a livable wage,” said an Alameda County Supervisor. The role of the community college is increasingly apparent: to identify people who can be (re)trained, provide them with “work skills” (show deference to the boss, get to work on time, be productive) and knowledge necessary for competing in the  information economy. It’s unclear whether participants actually find much paid work as a result; the training program at Solar Richmond placed 32 out of 160 graduates in the solar-related jobs, for example. These trainings also act as a valve to regulate the flatlands dispossessed, either back into manageable wage labor, or more generally through the progressive Oakland Democratic/non-profit machinery. That said, any program that can create jobs for poor people and people of color in the still-segregated building trades is an achievement.

    This “greening” is part of a broader strategic shift in the welfare state. Student services that primarily support low-income women of color like CalWORKs, EOPS, and child care are slashed, eliminating support for working-class moms to enter or sustain themselves in the labor market. At the same time, there is a dramatic influx of restricted public funds for more profitable growth sectors of the economy. The result at Laney is that a greater proportion of the college is created and funded (colonized) by capital and its needs.

    It’s time to ask fundamental questions: who runs Peralta, and why?

    Who determines what we learn, and how?

    What is a community college for?

    The Peralta administration is dropping students – but we can stop them



    In defiance of student protests, Peralta administrators implemented a new fee policy that is a direct assault on our right to an education. Students who can’t pay their fees before the start of classes are being automatically dropped. This new fee policy is an attack on Peralta’s most vulnerable students: the working-class, immigrants, single parents and students of color. It’s the gentrification of Peralta.

    Applying for financial aid is complicated and confusing, especially for people going to college for the first time. This and problems in the Laney financial aid office mean that many students receive our aid money late or not at all. Without financial aid, we have no choice but to pay our fees late, and Peralta drops us.

    The administration’s decision to solve their budget deficit through cuts in critical areas has worsened the situation. With insufficient funding and underpaid, overworked staff, student questions are not being answered, assistance is not being provided, and applications are not being processed.

    Laney is a COMMUNITY college, meaning that it should be run by current and future students, staff and teachers – the community, in our own interests. By implementing a policy which will push out working class black and brown students, the administration has betrayed its responsibility to protect student interests. To keep this campus accessible to low-income students of color, we need to fight back.


    Peralta’s creditors demand cuts

    Debt is central to the choices made by both the people who run Peralta the institution and those who take its classes. Strangely, debt is rarely explicitly discussed, even after the explosion and resurrection of the big banks. Yet debt is a “kitchen table” issue for working class communities living off credit, strained to pay the mortgage or rent. From 2004 to 2008, the percentage of community college students who borrow rose from 30% to 38%. Almost half of applicants to California community colleges have “no resources to pay for college” and are “most likely to have ‘unmet need’ even after receiving all available aid.” We are too often broke and dependent, and so is our school.

    Peralta likewise has obligations as an institution subject to the risk and turbulence of financial markets. Formed in 1965, the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT) – sole bargaining representative for over 1,000 full- and part-time faculty at the four Peralta colleges – traded cash raises for the promise of job security and benefits like pensions and fully-funded health care at the bargaining table after Proposition 13 dramatically defunded much of the public sector in 1978. As health care costs rose sharply throughout the 1990’s, the District conducted an actuarial study in 2001 which found a large unfunded liability to its faculty and staff to cover their health benefits after retirement. After negotiations with the PFT and other unions, the District made a deal: workers hired after July 1, 2004 would receive fully paid health benefits up to age 65 including coverage of eligible dependents, ending lifetime fully-paid health coverage. In return, the District would issue bonds to secure rising health costs for the coming decades. (An independent retiree group formed in 2004 after realizing that “none of the unions that represent active employees, represents retirees,” but they were too late.) In December 2005, the District issued $153 million in long-term Other Post-retirement Employment Benefit (OPEB) bonds, the vast majority of which would be repaid in variable interest rate payments every five years over a 45-year period. The idea was that the bonds would stabilize health benefit costs and the bond proceeds would be reinvested; assuming a 6% annual return, retiree health care would be securely vested.

    This seemed like a clever move: in 2006, Peralta’s OPEB investment fund earned 10.86% while the District paid 6% to bondholders. Banks marketed these “auction rate securities” to clients as safe as cash with the same liquidity. CFO Tom Smith was cheered as “something of a celebrity in the world of public institution finance” and was invited to speak at a variety of conferences. In Nov. 2006, Smith also committed the District to six interest rate SWAPs, side-bets on the OPEB bonds where the District would pay a fixed rate of 4.9% and Morgan Stanley paid the District the one-month LIBOR rate (in Nov. 2006, one month LIBOR was 5.35%). As long as clients purchased the bonds and the economy grew, Peralta workers would have guaranteed benefits for life: the rising tide was lifting all boats. Organizationally, PFT had tethered itself to not just the interests of its members or education workers broadly, but to the fiscal management of the District as a whole.

    In February 2008, the auction rate security market froze: corporations and rich people refused to buy the banks’ bonds. The rate that institutions like Peralta paid increased rapidly while their investment returns declined sharply. Peralta began paying off only its interest owed, not the principal. CFO Smith’s Finance Department stopped producing annual budgets for Board approval; over two years passed until the Trustees approved a budget or filed a quarterly financial report with the State.. When the markets froze, institutions paid a higher penalty rate, compounding the problem. When the first SWAP came due on Aug. 5, 2010, Peralta began making payments every five weeks to Morgan Stanley; the current one month LIBOR rate is .32%; Peralta bet, and lost, badly. The District now faces rapidly increasing OPEB debt payments: from 2016 to 2049, the annual debt service payment will grow from approximately $10 million to $21 million (roughly 17% of the annual budget as of July 19, 2010). Sadly, as of April 2010, Peralta’s total OPEB investment portfolio declined to $149 million, over $35 million short of the health care obligations the bonds were supposed to fund.

    Sooner rather than later, the Trustees have a choice: either open up their post-retirement health care obligations and continue making drastic cuts or oppose the financial institutions that profit by ripping off public institutions and refuse to pay Morgan Stanley’s ludicrous monthly SWAPs. Likewise, the PFT will need to decide whether it will co-manage the District as it cuts its way into solvency or again act as a vehicle for struggle against austerity. In Argentina, Greece and Iceland, governments only defaulted or collapsed or conceded after repeated public sector general strikes, mass marches and rioting by an educated and angry working class and student movement that refused to pay for the crisis caused by a corrupt few. We encounter a similar problem.

    State law requires community colleges to approve a final budget by Sept. 15 for the coming fiscal year. By April 2010, the Peralta Board hadn’t passed a budget for fiscal years 2008-09 or 2009-10. Its creditors took notice. On April 14, Standard and Poor’s Rating Services issued a negative outlook and downgraded Peralta’s general obligation and OPEB bond ratings “because of the potential for a rating change as a result of the fact that the district has not adopted a budget for fiscal year 2010.” Only “if the district adopts an operating budget for the current fiscal year, and takes necessary steps to adopt a budget for the next fiscal year” would the CreditWatch listing be removed. On April 27, the Board approved a 2009-2010 budget. On July 29, S&P reiterated its negative outlook in another memo. “We believe the district will likely need to continue to reduce its spending going forward to maintain balanced operations. Additional ratings actions may be possible if the district’s reserves fall below what we consider to be adequate levels,” wrote S&P credit analyst Li Yang. The memo (below) continues:

    The district has until Sept. 15, 2010, to adopt a fiscal 2011 budget and management has indicated they intend to meet that deadline. Several spending cuts have already been approved by the board for fiscal 2011, which include further staffing cuts, and we understand the district intends to maintain reserves at between $6 million to $7 million for fiscal 2011.

    Here we find Peralta stuck in the same predicament as postcolonial nations that have accepted loans from international financial institutions. There are, of course, strings attached: structural adjustment policies, meaning balanced budgets through severe austerity cuts and steep user fees. If these cuts aren’t implemented, Peralta’s credit rating will be downgraded again and it will be mired deeper into debt. It’s blackmail.

    Peralta’s corrupt administration and Trustees have attempted to spin their way out of this memo. On Aug. 26, Trustee Linda Handy wrote that “Citing improved financial accounting systems, the District’s bond rating was recently upgraded to a level considered strong by a leading crediting-rating agency.” This is putting it kindly: in fact, the memo reiterates S&P’s negative outlook for Peralta bonds due to the District corruption and Trustee negligence that caused Peralta’s accreditation to be placed on probationary status. S&P’s Yang:

    “The negative outlook reflects our view of the district’s probationary
    accreditation status and the risk that it may lose accreditation. Should the
    district lose accreditation, we believe its financial position may be weakened due to a potential loss in enrollment levels.”

    Finally, the material basis of Peralta: accreditation not as a bare measure of competence, but as an institution’s ability to funnel public dollars to its creditors.

    Peralta Community College District, CA’s GO, POB Bond Ratings Removed From CreditWatch Neg, Negative Outlook Assigned

    Publication date: 29-Jul-2010 19:25:13 EST

    View Analyst Contact InformationSAN FRANCISCO (Standard & Poor’s) July 29, 2010– Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services removed its ‘AA-‘ and ‘A+’ ratings on Peralta Community College District, Calif.’s, general obligation (GO) bonds and pension obligation bonds from CreditWatch with negative implications. The outlook is negative. In
    addition, Standard & Poor’s affirmed its ‘AA-‘ rating on the district’s GO
    bonds and ‘A+’ rating on the district’s pension obligation bonds.

    “The CreditWatch removal reflects our view of the district’s formal adoption
    of a 2009-2010 budget and its reduction of both certificated and staffing
    levels due to state funding cuts,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Li
    Yang. “The negative outlook reflects our view of the district’s probationary
    accreditation status and the risk that it may lose accreditation. Should the
    district lose accreditation, we believe its financial position may be weakened
    due to a potential loss in enrollment levels.”

    “We believe the district will likely need to continue to reduce its spending
    going forward to maintain balanced operations. Additional ratings actions may
    be possible if the district’s reserves fall below what we consider to be
    adequate levels,” Mr. Yang said.

    The district has until Sept. 15, 2010, to adopt a fiscal 2011 budget and
    management has indicated they intend to meet that deadline. Several spending
    cuts have already been approved by the board for fiscal 2011, which include
    further staffing cuts, and we understand the district intends to maintain
    reserves at between $6 million to $7 million for fiscal 2011.

    The CreditWatch placement, which was assigned on April 14, 2010, was based on our view of the district’s: lack of an adopted 2009-2010 budget, problems with its financial reporting software, and turnover among key finance personnel.
    Additionally, the district had not yet finalized its fiscal 2009 audit report.
    Consequently, we believe the district’s financial status and its ability to
    meet future appropriation-related debt in absence of a formally adopted budget
    came into question.

    We understand the district intends to meet with the Accrediting Commission for
    Community and Junior Colleges on Oct. 15, 2010, to show that it has made
    progress in addressing its concerns.