A decision by college officials to take over payroll and other fiscal responsibilities it currently subcontracts has drawn mixed reaction from faculty and staff.
Southwestern College administrators decided to cut ties with the San Diego County Office of Education for payroll services and bring the process in house by hiring three new employees, one of which will be an administrator. College officials have said the move would be cost effective due to the rising price of outsourcing the service.
Opponents of the plan said they worry about a lack of oversight, the hiring of more non-academic personnel and the college’s wobbly history of financial management. They also complained that the decision-making process was not transparent.
Budget Committee Co-Chair Randy Beach said SWC made the commitment to be fiscally independent of the County Office of Education by July 2015.
“The desire is to be able to run the system ourselves as a shadow system to the County (Office),” he said. “It would continue doing our payroll until the end of June to make sure we’re doing everything correctly.”
Beach said if the County Office continued providing payroll, SWC would have had to migrate to an expensive new system known as PeopleSoft. Beach said using this new software would require the college to pay an initial fee of at least $550,000, followed by an annual fee of $60,000 to $75,000.
Rather than using this new software, he said, SWC has decided to cut ties with the county office and go fiscally independent.
Faculty union president Eric Maag said employees have concerns. A lot of people are rightfully nervous with the prospect of the college being able to look into grievances and making sure payroll is done correctly, he said.
“There is a risk with potentially increasing our liability,” said Maag. “When (County Office professionals) are involved, they act as a check and balance against our accounting methods in the payroll department.”
When he used to with the debate team Maag said he was forwarded expense money from the college. When he came back he had to provide receipts for all expenditures.
“The County would make sure those receipts met the standards of the state,” he said. “When there is no County involved we are responsible for those things. We would be liable for any mistakes that were made.”
SWC’s governing board decided to pursue independence in March, Maag said, despite the fact that was no campus or community input on the proposal. Maag said a hastily-called campus-wide “town meeting” held on Oct. 15 was not held for the purpose of voting for fiscal independence. An email inviting members of the campus community to the noon meeting was sent at 11:17 a.m., just 43 minutes prior to the start. Many campus employees expressed grave concerns about lack of transparency and failure to involve the campus in the decision.
“That decisions had already been made,” said Maag. “It wasn’t really part of a shared governance approach.”
Professor of Learning Skills Corina Soto agreed.
“The meeting seemed to demonstrate the technical fulfillment of shared governance, but not the spirit,” she said. “This works because you get what you want and all you have to do afterward is to either say you were sorry or that there must have been some sort of miscommunication.”
The meeting’s purpose was to gather input on three positions associated with fiscal independence: payroll director, human resources position control technician and an internal auditor, according to Maag.
“The decision to go fiscally independent was made months and months ago without input from the constituent groups on campus,” said Maag. “Being asked to have a shared governance system on whether we should hire the positions associated (with a previously approved decision) seems kind of backwards.”
The payroll director is the only position directly associated with fiscal independence, said Maag. The other two are an attempt to update the school’s software and systems, he said.
“Part of fiscal independence does require an internal auditor,” said Maag. “Even though (the district is) saying it’s not associated with that, technically we probably wouldn’t qualify for fiscal independence without the internal auditor.”
A Shared Consultation Council meeting scheduled for Nov. 6 includes a formal vote on adding administration and classified positions needed to take over payroll.
“The results of that vote are only a recommendation to the president,” said Maag. “And the president has pretty much indicated that we will be hiring those positions.”