It's time for MHCC to negotiate in good faith with its faculty

Last time, with pressure from the community, the board came to the table and worked out a compromise that worked for both sides. Right now the board is unwilling to do that.

By Jenni Simonis of Gresham, Oregon. Jenni is a long-time political activist and consultant. She is currently a candidate for the Mount Hood Community College board. For more information, visit SimonisForMHCC.com.

While many of us are hearing daily about the struggles of public unions around the country, we have our own union issues right here in our backyard that could use your help and are being overlooked.

The full-time faculty at Mt. Hood Community College has been working without a contract since last August. They have been working actively to try to come to a resolution on the contract issue with the Board of Education to no avail. Months went by with the board unwilling to do any negotiating with the faculty. Last time they went through this process, President John ("Dr. Ski") Sygielski handled it, saying at the end “the next time we do this, we can do it in an hour”. But instead of doing it in an hour, it has taken months and no resolution. The board chose to not send in Dr. Ski, instead hiring an outside contractor. This labor process – along with other hiring issues – has cost the school nearly $200,000 already. For a college that says it has no money, that is a lot to spend on someone to say “no”.

Time went by and the process entered into mediation because a contract still had not been agreed upon. In this mediation process the board’s representative has refused to negotiate with the faculty or take back faculty concessions back to the board for them to discuss. The faculty has made $1.6 million in concessions already, to which the board will not respond.

Too many entities in the area have blamed the entire situation on the faculty, saying they should compromise and negotiate. They’re trying to do exactly that, but it is hard to do so when only one party is at the table.

Throughout the process, the students have tried to speak to the board about the faculty. We’ve written letters, left messages, and attended meetings. We have asked why we can spend $700,000 a year on a pool cover that provides no instructional benefit, hundreds of thousands on a phone system, $310,000 on a new web site and branding, and $200,000+ on a consultant to handle the negotiations. When Dr. Ski recommended that they cut several administrative positions they instead raised tuition and then hired eight additional administrators. Our efforts are ignored, responded to with form letters that do not answer our concerns, or are outright offensive and demeaning. Our tuition and fees covers a third of the budget (and growing), yet they refuse to listen to us.

We point out that MHCC has seen record enrollments and does not have capacity within its current course setup to cover all the students who want to attend. Students are having to dual enroll at other colleges just to be able to take core classes like math and writing. Others are taking fewer classes beyond their requirements because of the lack of classes. All of this is costing MHCC money, yet the board chooses to do nothing. All the while they spend money on “wants” instead of “needs”, pushing instructional expenditures to less than half the budget and allowing our critical systems to deteriorate. Just last term the school was closed for three days because of electrical failure on campus, with more such failures expected this term. Some areas of the campus – visual arts and industrial technology – went a week without power. And what does our board do? They spend more than $300,000 on redoing their web site and whine that they can’t afford their instructors.

On top of that, they cut the Medical Assistant degree, which is one of the ten fastest growing careers and popular at the school and sent layoff notices to all of our full-time librarians. Our librarians do more than just help you with the library – they help with research projects, teach students, and more. Without them, we are worried that the campus may no longer be able to meet requirements for accreditation.

Well, the students have had enough. At the urging of many of my fellow classmates, I filed to run for a position on the MHCC Board of Education. Rather than paying the $10 fee, I collected sheet after sheet of signatures of students from around campus – well more than the required minimum. We’re tired of our taxes and tuition being wasted while the school’s mission – to educate students – is ignored. If something isn’t done soon, the college may be so badly damaged that it will take years for it to recover.

The board called an executive session for April 3, at which meeting we believe they voted to impose a contract on the faculty. They have not spoken about the outcome of the meeting and I am waiting on a public records request to find out more. If they did indeed vote to impose a contract, the next step may very well be a strike of the faculty – a vote on the topic has been scheduled for Wednesday. All of this is coming at a time that will be too late for students to be able to transfer to another school and may keep those of us graduating at the end of the term from being able to do so.

The last time the school got to this point, it was the community that helped pull them from the brink. With pressure from the community, the board came to the table and worked out a compromise that worked for both sides. Right now the board is unwilling to do that, making this seem more of a power play than that of a concern for the budget – especially when you consider their wasteful spending over the last six months.

I am pleading with everyone in the community to please contact the elected members of the board and urge them to negotiate in good faith with the faculty. That they take their place at the table and not leave until a contract is agreed upon. And that they once again put students first and stop spending money on the extras until we can afford the necessities. I am also asking that you look closely at the candidates for the four positions on the board and vote for candidates that are going to put the students first and make MHCC the excellent institution that it has the ability to become.

I am also asking that you come out with us on Thursday to rally as a united voice in support of education. We’ll be meeting on Thursday, April 7th from 4:30-5:30 in the main mall at MHCC. You can find full details of the event on Facebook. We have several printables there, including rally posters and 4-up handouts. Together we can show the board that their wasteful spending will no longer be tolerated and educating students will again become the number one priority.

Comments

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    An addition that came out today:

    The school is now cutting the part-time nursing program. Here is what students receive today:

    Dear Part-Time Applicants: It is with deep regret that I must inform you that due to a predicted budget short fall for the school year 2011-2012 the Mt Hood Nursing Program is unable to offer the part-time nursing program for this coming school year. I would however like to offer you the opportunity to have your name sent forward to the full time applicant pool which will be entering the second phase of the application process in the next few weeks. If you wish to be added to the full time applicant pool please notify Judy Froehlich, in the office of admissions, [email protected] , by 4:30 pm, Monday April 11, 2011. If we do not hear from you by Monday we will assume that you are not interested in having your name sent forward and MHCC will refund your $75.00 application fee.

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    Now the college has filed a Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the faculty. They're saying the faculty had a new proposal and would not hand it over. The report I received from the meeting was that faculty offered it and was told that the board's representatives said they were not authorized to take any offers back to the board.

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    Update:

    Faculty voted today to authorize a strike. Story can be found here: http://www.kgw.com/news/MHCC-teachers-consider-going-on-strike-119346099.html

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    Jenni, Good for you for sticking to your principles in negotiations and for running for the MHCC Board. MHCC has been critical to our business success. Our 3 most recent full-time hires have been Mt. Hood student interns we have sponsored through the IMPORT automotive program. (We will be adding a 4th when he graduates at the end of this term.) My understanding is that the current Board has insulated themselves from community contact by having all correspondence to the Board directed instead to the contractor. Do you have contact information for current Board members? Thanks for all you do.

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      Brian Freeman, Board Chair 3674 SE Durango Place Gresham, OR 97080 [email protected]

      Beverly Russell PO Box 937 Welches OR 97067-0937 [email protected] [email protected]

      Rod Monroe 7802 SE 111th Avenue Portland, OR 97266 [email protected]

      Bob Morris 3221 SW Willow Parkway Gresham, OR 97080 [email protected]

      Dave Shields 1026 SE 213th Gresham OR 97030 [email protected]

      Ralph Yates, D.O. 45 SE Avondale Court Gresham, OR 97080 [email protected] [email protected]

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    I should add that I serve on the MHCC advisory board for the IMPORT automotive program. (A non-policy position.)

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      That is great to hear. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the Automotive Technology program at the school. It's the same with other programs across campus. Many hospitals and doctor's offices love hiring MHCC grads because of how well they are trained and educated.

      Yet our board has chosen to cut such programs, which not only hurts the students, but the business community which relies on those graduates for hires.

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    To update everyone:

    We had a pretty good turn out at our rally. With the faculty voting yes to authorize a strike, we finally are receiving media coverage on what is going on. Unfortunately, they seem to be focusing heavily on the board's comments and the misinformation they are spreading. But it did mean we had coverage of our rally yesterday and me doing more interviews than I can count.

    Yesterday we collected 527 signatures, which is pretty good for a community college campus. We're continuing to collect signatures so we can present them at Wednsday night's board meeting.

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