[Calaveras County] Report: county should leave Delta College district Taxpayers at risk for further cost with no benefits, concludes Grand Jury

Calaveras County residents could be on the hook for more taxes without any direct benefits, according to the recently released Grand Jury Report.

If the county remains part of the San Joaquin Delta Community College District (SJDCCD), more taxes could be paid into the Measure L Bond, which was supposed toward the construction of a Valley Springs campus, according to the report. Those plans were eventually scrapped by the Delta Board of Trustees five years after Measure L was passed in 2004.

Calaveras County is divided by two different college districts – the SJDCCD and the Yosemite Community College District (YCCD) – serving the northern and southern portions of the county, respectively. The 2018-2019 Grand Jury chose to investigate why minimal funds from the Measure L Bond have been spent on the educational infrastructure in Calaveras, and why a Foothills campus has not been pursued.

Measure L, which was worth $250 million when it was passed, is set to expire in 2029.

“The Bond Measure provided $250 million plus interest and earnings for urgent and critical facility needs as determined by the Board of Trustees of (SJDCCD),” the Grand Jury Report states. “Measure L specified the establishment of an education center in the Mother Lode/Foothills area. This statement is qualified by standard bond language, which entitled the Trustees the discretion to prioritize and/or eliminate bond projects. Five years after the Measure was approved, the Delta Board of Trustees terminated its plan for the Foothills facility.”

Instead, the report shows, Delta chose to build a campus in Mountain House, a community northwest of Tracy on the western edge of San Joaquin County. That project, originally estimated to cost $55 million, ballooned to $95 million.

This year’s Grand Jury recommends secession of Calaveras County from the Delta College District by Dec. 31 of this year. It also recommends aligning the entirety of the county with the Yosemite College District or partnering with another entity to be a “distance learning campus.”

This is not the first time a Grand Jury has recommended leaving the SJDCCD.

The 2013-2014 Grand Jury, as the result of a citizen complaint, published its investigation into why Delta did not follow through with language that suggested a campus would be built in Valley Springs. From that investigation, the Grand Jury “recommended that the (Calaveras County Board of Supervisors) support withdrawal from Delta and seek inclusion in Yosemite.”

The SJDCCD response to that year’s Grand Jury Report was defense of its decision to “remove the Foothills project, citing that the student population in the portion of Calaveras County that it serves would not support a campus in the county.”

According to this year’s report, the 2014 board of supervisors adopted a wait-and-see approach, stating, “At this time, the Board does not support implementing the recommended action to withdraw from (SJDCCD). The desire of the Board is also for Delta College District to expand and establish a Foothill area campus or education center as was described in the Measure L ballot materials.”

But withdrawing from the Delta district is not as simple as the Board of Supervisors voting on it. According to Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE) Superintendent Scott Nanik, California Department of Education District Organization Handbook on transfer of territory for school districts must be adhered to. The state education code dictates that:

“Transfer of territory from one community college district to another is initiated by a petition signed by either at least 25% of the registered voters in the territory or a majority of the members of the governing board of each school and community college district affected.

“If the transfer involves a change of territory affecting less than 5% of the adult population of the school district for which the transfer is being made, the petition may be transmitted by the county superintendent directly to the county board of supervisors and is effective without further review. This procedure may not be used more than once every five years.

“The committee must analyze the petition and hold one or more public hearings. The governing board of the community college district to which the territory is to be transferred must consent to the transfer. If the committee approves the petition, it must transmit the petition and information thereon to the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges for review.”

“With two community college districts in our area, it’s hard to create a momentum,” Nanik said. He’s not so quick to leave the SJDCCD, because there are benefits to both district connected to Calaveras County. “Yosemite has made efforts to serve the population, and it’s more in line with our geographic area. It’s more difficult with Delta.”

But, Nanik said, Delta has tried to keep the lines of communication open with the CCOE. Rather than secede from Delta, he feels it’s best to keep all options open.

“I think that the more options we have for our citizens, the better off we are,” Nanik said. “Right now we are offering two options that are in our backyard.”

Nanik went on to say that the CCOE is working to create a model where college courses can be offered online through a few different classrooms throughout the county with a handful of students attending each. That way the problem of internet connectivity would not be an issue for students wanting online classes.

A 2008-2009 San Joaquin County Grand Jury found that “the Delta College Board of Trustees were ill-prepared to handle the Measure L funds and made decisions which caused serious problems and wasted millions of dollars,” due to a lack of oversight.

That same investigation reported that the “demographic studies used by the Delta College District for facilities planning were questionable at best.”

More than half of Calaveras County voters in the SJDCCD voted against Measure L. But those voters only comprised 6.9% of all the voters in the college district which encompasses all of San Joaquin County (with the exception of the Ripon Unified School District) and portions of Alameda, Calaveras, Sacramento and Solano counties.

The 2018-2019 Grand Jury recommends leaving the college district as “there are no plans to spend funds in Calaveras County for the remaining life of the Bond.” It was reported that over the 25-year life of Measure L, Calaveras County taxpayers will have paid more than $10 million for facilities outside of the county.

Although the SJDCCD cited insufficient enrollment, the Grand Jury found there is a need for further educational opportunities, showing that the majority of high school graduates in the area go on to higher education. It was deemed necessary to have a campus for higher education due to a lack of public transportation to get students to the Stockton or Mountain House campuses. High-speed internet was also an issue, as online classes would not be accessible without it, something Calaveras County has struggled to implement for many years.

“The 2018-2019 (Grand Jury) has concluded that the time for inaction has passed, and it is imperative for the county to move forward to secede from the (SJDCCD),” the report stated. “If nothing is done, the county citizens could be obligated to pay for future community college bond measures that provide no direct benefit to the county in return.”

July 2, 2019

Calaveras Enterprise

By Marc Lutz