Foothill-De Anza service union urges no on parcel tax
The local community college district's service workers union is urging voters to reject Measure E, the parcel tax that proponents say would raise much needed money for Foothill and De Anza colleges.
"The district has a history of overspending," said Leo Contreras, president of Chapter 96 of the California School Employees Association, which represents service, maintenance and skilled trade workers in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
Measure E would charge property owners in the community college district up to $69 annually per parcel and raise about $42 million total over the course of six years, when it sunsets.
Contreras accused the district of being wasteful and said the Foothill-De Anza administration has treated the members of his union unfairly, continually violating the CSEA's collective bargaining agreement.
"This is a late-inning smear from a union boss with an axe to grind. There really is not a whole lot more to say about it," said Becky Bartindale, the district spokeswoman.
Chris Pedersen, a representative for the Santa Clara County chapter of the CSEA said relations between Contreras' chapter and the administration at Foothill-De Anza are currently at an all-time low. He also noted that Contreras' chapter is in the midst of grievance proceedings with the district.
The union, which comprises 93 employees across the Foothill and De Anza campuses, took a vote earlier this month on whether to support Measure E, Contreras said. The union was unanimously against the parcel tax.
"We see the waste that has happened with the bond measures," Contreras said, referring to the previous Measure E, passed in 1999, and Measure C, passed in 2006.
In both instances, Contreras said, the money the district gained was poorly allocated. "We have no doubt that there will be waste in the future."
Linda Thor, chancellor of the district, said she felt that Contreras may be opposing the measure simply to apply pressure to the board of trustees, a charge he does not entirely deny.
Contreras said he wanted to get the board of trustees' attention and move the board to action.
Contreras said that in the past, bond-funded construction projects were mismanaged, expensive outside contractors were brought in when district employees could have done just as good a job and that old furniture — including desks, chairs and shelves — was discarded, instead of being recycled or sold. "Since there is money to be spent on new furniture, the old furniture is just being trashed," he said.
The CSEA president also complained that while the district has grown, adding more students and facilities, service workers have not increased accordingly to meet the demand.
He acknowledged that district administration has also faced a larger workload, but said, "They get stipends to do the additional work while the rest of the workers do not."
Bruce Swenson, president of the district's board of trustees and Chancellor Thor, both said that Contreras' claim about stipends was inaccurate, noting that district employees are paid extra only if they go beyond their classification, which at times happens when positions are vacant and someone steps in to fill a role while continuing to do the job they for which they were originally hired.
"I don't think our administrators are treated any differently," Swenson said. "Our administrators are also working extra hard to accommodate the surge in students just as our classified employees are, and our faculty."
Contreras said that while the language of the measure indicates that the money would be spent on accommodating the needs of students, he believes it will free up money in the schools' general fund that will be used to increase the salaries and benefits of faculty and administration. "It's a shell game," Contreras said.
"I would disagree strongly with him on that," Swenson said. "Our goal with the Measure E funds is to serve the extra students."
Bartindale said that if enough new classes are created, more teachers would be hired. "There's just no way around that."
However, she said, current faculty and administration would not get raises as a result of Measure E dollars.
Of the five collective bargaining groups within the Foothill-De Anza district, the CSEA is the only one to oppose Measure E.