Spending of San Jose Evergreen College District Bond Money Questioned

Bait and switch alleged with San Jose Evergreen Community College District Bond Money

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Three years after voters approved a $268 million bond measure for the San Jose Evergreen College District, students, teachers, and taxpayers are questioning how the money is being spent. Tony Kovaleski reports.

    Voters approved it, homeowners are paying for it, but taxpayers, teachers and students claim administrators at the San Jose Evergreen College District pulled a bait and switch with bond money. Money once planned to rebuild rundown vocational technical buildings is now funding a new theater complex at San Jose City College.

    Voters gave the district more than a quarter billion dollars when it passed Measure G in 2010. The bond never mentioned building a new theater, but it did say it would construct a new vocational technology building. 

    "These buildings are old, they haven't been maintained," vocational-technical instructor Steve Mansfield said. He gave NBC Bay Area a tour of the buildings, and pointed out water damage, broken windows, exposed wiring, and chipping paint.

    "You can see the crack in the wood and the water will just come straight through here, drip down through the electrical and onto the floor, so we have to be real careful with the students," Mansfield said.

    Learning in this kind of environment isn't easy for students like Rodney Dorsey.

    "This is one of the bigger problems on campus," Dorsey said. "For it to be in the condition it's in is ridiculous."

    When City College administrators went to voters in 2010 asking for $268 million, the bond measure said the money would be used to improve facilities.

    Teachers came to NBC Bay Area after, they say, their concerns to administrators were ignored.

    "Faculty members have been told to sit down and shut up, and don't ask any more questions," English Instructor Charles Heimler said.

    Now, Heimler said, he's ready to speak out.

    "What voters approved in 2010 is not going to be built.," he said.

    Heimler is not the only one upset.

    "I'm appalled, because we were told we were going to have a new building," Mansfield said.

    An internal report shows that instead of replacing 60-year-old run-down classrooms, trustees and administrators in the San Jose Evergreen Community College District approved spending more than $22 million on a brand new theater and media arts center.

    "Nowhere in the voter information did it say build a new theater. It said very clearly and distinctly build a new vocational technology center," Heimler said.

    As for the vo tech buildings, the district will spend $7 million for refurbishing and renovation.

    "I know for sure they were sold a bait and switch. All you have to do is look at the ballot measure," Heimler said.

    San Jose Evergreen Community College District Chancellor, Rita Cepeda, supported the bond and supports the spending decisions made since voters approved the money. She says calling it a bait-and-switch is wrong.

    "That is not fair, that is not accurate and I think that kind of language is destructive," Cepeda said. "Are there people who are unhappy? Of course there are." 

    Chancellor Cepeda continued to defend the administration and trustee decisions, saying, "I feel very confident that we've done nothing that is inconsistent with the language here."

    When pressed about the language never stating building a new theater she held firm. "If your question is you have to build what is verbatim in here, then with all due respect, you're wrong."

    In the 2010 voters guide, groups opposed to bond said the Community College District had a history of wasting taxpayer dollars. The argument against the bond said in part, "The college district has no financial credibility. The District's history of changing priorities after they get our money has resulted in incomplete, illegally initiated and mismanaged projects." 

    The Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association was one of the groups opposed to the 2010 bond.

    "In the history of the school district, they've repeatedly done a bait and switch," Silicon Valley Taxpayer Association President Mark Hinkle said. "They said we were going to get certain things and then when the bond measure is passed, those things don't get built or renovated."

    That leaves the 60-year-old vocational tech buildings now settling for a renovation.

    Chancellor Cepeda admits there are problems with the buildings.

    "They're not great facilities," Cepeda said. "No they're not."

    Ultimately, you have two sides of an issue reading the same language in two different ways. Some portions of the bond are vague, allowing district administrators the ability to interpret as they make the spending decisions.

    Construction of the new theater and media arts center is scheduled to begin next year and conclude in 2015. Teachers say they remain focused on fighting for a change before construction begins.

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