The Peralta Report: “Laney College students protest budget cuts, storm Peralta Colleges district headquarters”

[via The Peralta Report]

Laney College students protest budget cuts, storm Peralta Colleges district headquarters

Students at Laney College Children's Center walk out and join rally on campus during the October 7 Day of Action.Students at Laney College Children’s Center walk out and join rally on campus during the October 7 Day of Action. Photo Credit: A Better Laney

 

Demanding no more budget cuts, staff layoffs, or fee increases, Laney College students held a noontime rally on the main campus quad on October 7. Some later marched to the Peralta Colleges district and briefly occupied the Chancellor’s office.
Coinciding with a National Day of Action in Defense of Education, the “Speak Out” let any student share how education budget cuts affected them. At the bottom of the event’s stage was a banner that read, “Free Speech Zone,” mocking a policy proposed last spring that critics said would limit free speech on the campus.
While most talked about budget cuts have affected them, their families and classmates, the overall emphasis of speakers was the press need for organization.
“This is exactly what we need to do to let our voices be heard and to show the powers that be that we are organized and we are one,” said Jurena Storm, a student member of the Peralta Colleges Board of Trustees. Storm left the rally early to attend a program at College of Alameda that featured a mass graveyard for education.
Laney College Black Student Union member Timothy Killings told students to take charge of their education’s by being actively engaged in the colleges’ governance, and retaking control of the school.
“First thing we need to do is clear up the misconception that our school is run by the Board of Trustees,” Killings said. “This is our school.” Killings criticized a new fee policy that dropping students from their classes if they do not pay their fees promptly.
“People being dropped out of their classes for not paying a $17 health fee,”
In between speakers, the rally’s emcee, former Laney BSU President Jabari Shaw, rapped the song, “Chop from the Top.” The song – based on a popular chant at Peralta board meetings last fall – became a budget cuts anthem of sorts last spring.
“People have called the cuts a tragedy,” said Peter Brown, an instructor in the machine technology department. “A tragedy is when someone is hurt and no one benefits. But when someone benefits, that’s not a tragedy, that’s a crime.” Brown’s comment was a reference to Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband, Richard C. Plum, a UC Regent who has profited while the tuition has skyrocketed, along with others who benefit while people suffer.
Shaw then introduced the next speaker, a challenger for the Peralta board facing a two-term incumbent in the November 2 election, adding, “We’re trying to get rid of the incompetents.”
Monica Tell, a former Laney College student running in Trustee Area 3, introduced herself as a person who grew up in Oakland that is “going to fight the good fight to represent you.”
Student Adon Ortega, an intern with Californians for Justice, encouraged students to sign a petition about financial aid issues and the district’s new policy.
“People are supposed to pay fees, and use financial aid, but financial aid doesn’t come until weeks after,” Ortega said.
Student Jevon Cochran, a member of Laney’s Student Unity and Power (SUP), called for repealing the new fee policy and for cuts from administrators.
“When these cuts started to come down, they gave administrators raises,” Cochran said. Last year, the Bay Area News Group revealed that former Chancellor Elihu Harris gave raises to administrators against board policy. When trustees found out, instead of repeal the raises, trustees ratified the decision. “They didn’t think it was fair that (Peralta) administrators didn’t make as much as other (districts) administrators. But it’s fair for students to get kicked out of school and it’s fair that workers lose their jobs?”
Administrators need to fight against the cuts, also, Cochan said, calling on students to go picket the district’s headquarters. “We’ve got to take it to the state and to the administrators too. Let’s march!”
The rally abruptly ended as about 30 students marched from Laney’s quad, down 8th Street towards the district’s headquarters chanting, “No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!”
The group burst into the the Peralta District’s headquarters, interrupting a Benefits Fair for employees. Corporate representatives from CostCo and 24 Hour Fitness appeared stunned as students marched past before doubling back and entering the offices of Chancellor’s staff.
Staff quickly called Peralta Police Services – a contract of the Alameda County Sheriffs Office – whose offices are housed in the same building. Students continued chanting, demanding to see trustees.
“We should stay here until the Chancellor agrees to meet with us,” Cochran said.
Deputy Glen Pace, entering the offices at that same time responded, “Here’s the agreement, you have thirty seconds to leave.” The scene greatly resembled the April 22 board meeting that was shutdown by student’s protesting the closure of the College of Alameda Children’s Center. The group left the building a minute later, while sheriff’s locked and blocking the entrance.
Students marched back to Laney, with many taking public transportation to join the demonstrations taking place at UC Berkeley.

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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.

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Study and care

or

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Against the new fee policy

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WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT THE NEW “FEE POLICY”?

Peralta started a new fee 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 fees immediately or be dropped from their classes and have their debt sent to collections. Hundreds more East Bay youth are denied access to Peralta schools every month. This policy means the gentrification of our school.

FINANCIAL AID FOR EVERYONE!

The district expects us to pay our fees promptly, but how are we supposed to do this when their financial aid system is a disaster? Many students don’t receive financial aid until the end of the semester. The financial aid office is understaffed and there are hours-long wait times in the line every day. Our district expects us to pay our fees immediately, yet they refuse to fix their broken system for financial aid. We should be paid to go to school.

WHAT DO THE CUTS MEAN?

Cuts mean crowded classes and stressed out professors. Every cut represents an increasingly uncertain future for Peralta students, workers, and faculty alike. On September 28th the board will meet to cut 10% ($13 million dollars) from the budget. Cuts mean war.

ABOLISH THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES!

The Peralta Board of Trustees is a group of seven inept bureaucrats who have neglected corruption within the District and mismanaged the budget. Whether through their fee policy, cutting teachers, or slashing essential student services, the district has shown contempt for the community Peralta is supposed to serve. We can run our school for ourselves, in our own interests.

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

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.

  • ALLOW ALL STUDENTS TO ADD AND ATTEND CLASSES!
  • FINANCIAL AID NOW!
  • IMMEDIATE FREEZE ON LAYOFFS, FURLOUGHS, AND CUTS TO CLASSES!
  • REHIRE ALL LAID OFF WORKERS!

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
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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.

“Closure for childcare at COA delayed. Protests keep center open.”

“Closure for childcare at COA delayed” (from today’s Laney Tower)