Faculty members at Santa Ana College and Santiago Canyon College are demanding fair pay and raising questions about a $50,000 raise for a top administrator during their contract negotiations with Rancho Santiago Community College District.
Some professors have been showing up to the district offices protesting and speaking out at the district board meetings about the proposed contract.
But district officials are not backing down from the final offer.
Negotiations reached an impasse last week.
An impasse means that a mediator could be brought in from the State’s Public Employment Relations Board to help try and foster an agreement.
If no agreement is reached, a panel is formed with representatives from the union and district to review negotiations, and potentially recommend how to get out of the deadlock.
If still no agreement is reached, the district can impose a contract on the union.
Employees could then choose to go on strike.
Some counselors, with support from professors in other departments, have protested a contract proposal that they say will increase their workload without fair compensation.
They say the proposal leaves them feeling undervalued by a district where officials recently approved a close to 16% raise for the chancellor, while pushing back on certain faculty demands.
Meanwhile, district officials say a proposed change in working conditions for counselors matches what other OC community college districts are requiring. They also say the chancellor’s pay increase matches other districts.
They say they’re not asking counselors to work more than the 40 hour week that is required of them already, but that they spend more time focused on counseling students, either one on one or in a group, as opposed to teaching or doing special projects.
District officials also say the faculty is being offered fair raises.
Dispute over Counseling Hours
Letitia Clark, Tustin Councilwoman and spokeswoman for the district, said the district is asking counselors to up their student-focused hours from 25 to 30.
“They’re still expected to work a 40 hour work week so that’s not changing,” Clark said in a Thursday interview. “Even that 30 hours from what I understand is 10% lower than the lowest amount of hours required from our other neighboring districts.”
Under the current contract, Rancho Santiago Community College District counselors are expected to average a 40 hour work week with 25 hours dedicated to direct student contact and 10 hours dedicated to prep work.
The contract, set to expire in June, defines student contact as “counseling activity in which counseling service is provided to a student or students, including instruction, workshops, individual or group counseling.”
In the Coast Community College District, counselors are required to directly counsel students for 33 hours and 45 minutes a week under their contract.
In North Orange County Community College District (NOCCCD), counselors are required to work 35 assigned hours out of their 40 hour work week dedicated to tasks like office hours, group counseling, and teaching counseling and student development classes.
In South Orange County Community College District SOCCCD, counselors are required to work 30 hours per week dedicated to direct student contact, outreach and program specific assignments and five hours per week for office hours under their contract.
Many counselors in the Rancho Santiago district also teach and are involved in other special programs which they say counts towards their direct student contact hours.
District officials want counselors to focus on individual or group counseling and move away from teaching and special programs.
However, counselors argue teaching is part of the responsibilities they were hired to do and by singling out their positions, district officials are discriminating against them.
“The expectation all along has always been that we are going to teach classes,” said Ana Meckes, a counselor at Santa Ana College, in an interview. “We teach our counseling specialty, we have many classes that we teach that provide the bulk of the units for social work.”
Meckes serves on the district faculty association’s representative council for the counseling department at Santa Ana College.
Counselors say under the proposed contract, teaching would no longer count toward their assigned duties and if they wanted to keep doing that, they would have to work overtime.
Steve Bautista, a faculty member at Santa Ana College for over 20 years, said in an interview earlier this month that the contract proposed thus far will also hurt students and the ability of faculty to serve them.
He said the contract proposal makes counseling faculty work overtime to maintain courses and programs that are integral to helping students succeed.
“For me, that’s probably the most disrespectful thing,” Bautista said. “That’s probably the thing that’s going to hurt students and hurt the district the most.”
How Many Hours Are Being Spent Counseling?
A table detailing the hours Santa Ana College counselors work – provided by an employee in the district and verified by district officials – shows only one out 16 counselors at the college listed in the chart completed 25 hours of general counseling hours a week in the Fall of 2021.
The employee only agreed to speak to Voice of OC on background and didn’t want their name published for fear of retaliation.
Clark, the district spokesperson, also provided the same documentation with the names of the counselors redacted and said the document was created by the counseling dean of the Santa Ana College.
When presented with the document, counselors in the district said it’s “highly inaccurate.”
“Counselors work far more direct student contact hours than what is implied in the document,” said Meckes in an email. “The manner in which that document is written is extremely misleading, and furthermore, the data collected is not correct for at least 9 of the 16 counselors.”
Meckes said hours listed in other columns of the table detailing teaching hours and time spent on special projects also have to do with direct student contact hours.
She also said there are 20 other counselors in the district, “most of which counsel at least 25 hours per week.”
Voice of OC requested data on the hours counselors at Santiago Canyon College spent counseling in the Fall of 2021 from both Clark and the college’s Dean of Counseling Jennifer Coto on Sunday.
In a follow up email, Clark said the dean from Santiago Canyon College provided the information verbally.
Coto didn’t respond to emailed questions.
The Dean of Counseling at Santa Ana College Maria Dela Cruz also did not respond to emailed questions on the documentation of the disputed counseling hours.
Faculty Rally at District Offices.
Dressed in black to show solidarity, faculty members from the two colleges gathered outside the district office on March 14 to protest the contract proposal.
The protest took place about an hour and a half before a meeting where district board members approved an employee agreement for the District Chancellor Martinez giving him almost a 16% bump in pay in his salary.
The agreement also stipulates that Martinez’s salary will increase by 4% in July of next year and another 4% the year after that.
Clark said before the agreement, Martinez was the lowest paid chancellor in Orange County.
“This is just trying to bring him up to a level that is commensurate with his colleagues across the county and tying into what the budget can accommodate,” she said.
Faculty say the chancellor’s pay has increased about 21% in the past three years, while faculty has only gotten a 12% increase over that same time.
Corinna Evett, an English professor at Santiago Canyon College, said the comparison of the raise for the chancellor and the pushback on the salary demands by the district sends a clear message to faculty.
“Whether intended or not, some in this district are less valuable than others,” she said at a board meeting earlier this month.
Dispute Over Cost of Living Adjustment
Faculty at the colleges called for annual cost of living adjustment to be reflected in their salaries.
As part of funding for schools and community college districts, state officials take into account what they call a cost of living adjustment (COLA) based on a formula by the federal government that estimates the increases in costs of goods and services bought by local and state governments.
EdSource, a California education news source, defines COLA as “an increase in funding for schools from the state or federal government due to inflation.”
The Legislative Analyst’s Office recently estimated the cost of living adjustment for 2022-23 will be around 5.3% and may even go up to 6%.
In a budget report on community colleges, the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates a 3.5% COLA rate in 2023-24 and a 3% rate in 2024-25.
But the report also states “a scenario in which inflation runs closer to 5 percent per year seems plausible” if high inflation persists in the next couple of years.
District officials say a 12% salary increase over three years is one of the highest increases in the state when it comes to community college faculty.
Clark said faculty was offered another 12% increase over the next three years during the negotiations
“There is an increase being proposed to the faculty union, it’s just that it’s not being presented in the way of just COLA,” she said. “In the view of the leadership, they’re saying that, you’re asking for the 5.33% COLA, but we’re actually offering 12% which should be more appealing.”
Faculty point to the College of the Canyons where faculty members also spoke out at meetings and protested to get district officials to offer the around 5% COLA and were successful.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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