The small classroom on the Marina campus of the Monterey Peninsula College campus was packed Wednesday morning with faculty members wearing black t-shirts emblazoned on the back with sayings like “You can’t balance the budget on our backs,” and “Happy teachers, happy students.”
Near the end of the day-long meeting, the only ones who looked happy were the MPC Board of Trustees and college administrators.
Looking relieved was MPC President and Superintendent Walt Tribley, whose contract extension to June 30, 2021, was unanimously approved by board. The vote came after all six trustees gave him glowing reviews.
Immediately after the vote, the board and about 15 or so administrators and MPC employees in the room gave him a standing ovation.
The day—which began at 10am with public comments before the board went into closed session to discuss Tribley’s contract, and ended after 5pm—punctuated how far apart the faculty and administration are from one another in negotiating a new labor agreement, and how much closer the college is to seeing a strike in the fall.
It started with a clear signal from board chair Marilynn Gustafson that she had already made up her mind that anything the faculty had to say was based on misinformation.
“I want to emphasize that it’s easy to be misled if you don’t know all the facts of what’s going on,” she said before the first speaker stepped up to the podium. “I do understand that the facts may differ from what you all have been told and contradict what you may be here to say, but I hope you will consider them before you step up to the microphone.”
All the facts they needed to know, she indicated, were in two items that ran in the Monterey Herald over Memorial Day weekend: a May 28 half-page ad stating the administration’s position regarding contract negotiations with the Monterey Peninsula College Teachers Association, signed by Gustafson and Tribley; and, a May 29 commentary written by Gustafson and board member Loren Steck echoing the same points.
(A full-page ad appears in this week's Weekly, with a statement that no public funds were used to pay for it. A spokesperson says the ads were paid for by donation, but could not say where the donation came from.)
The roadblock between the two sides became immediately clear with the very first faculty speaker, Alan Haffa, a MPCTA representative. (Haffa is also a Monterey City Council member.)
“We don’t agree with the facts as you state them,” he said. “That’s a problem.”
Haffa urged the board to wait on extending Tribley’s contract for at least a year. He asked trustees to task Tribley with negotiating a “fair contract” with teachers, and to bring in independent auditors to study the college’s budget.
A major sticking point between the two sides is the administration’s contention that there is not enough money in the budget to increase faculty salaries, while simultaneously planning to add more administrators.
In the May 28 ad, Tribley and Gustafson state that MPC has lost approximately $5 million in annual revenues due to a state mandate several years ago that caused the college to lose about 2,000 full-time equivalent students.
Administrators contend that the college has been operating on a deficit budget of about $2 million a year. Tribley says administrators are being added using mostly monies that wouldn't go to faculty salaries.
The faculty maintain that there is money in the budget. One member, Jon Mikkelsen, told the board that he believes there are several padded line items, possibly as much as $1.5 million worth. For example, he estimated the college had over-budgeted for utilities by $800,000.
Former MPC trustee Jane Haines urged the board during the afternoon session to find the money to pay teachers, some of the lowest paid in the California Community College system.
“Of course you can’t pay faculty with money you don’t have, but you can readjust priorities,” she said.
Another bone of contention: The ad states that MPC employees were paid 5 percent more in 2016-17 than the year before, and that next year all employees will receive a 2 percent salary increase.
The union points out that the 5 percent increase is money that was owed to them from an earlier contract, and that it had to force the college to pay it through mediation.
The long list of more than 50 speakers throughout the day—most supporting instructors—mirrored a May 9 MPC board meeting, with a stark contrast between speakers: administrators passionately supporting Tribley and his vision for the college, and instructors lashing out, citing the college’s current two-year accreditation probation as just one example of what they call poor management abilities.
As the vote for Tribley's contract neared, MPCTA president Lauren Blanchard (formerly Handley) said that if the board voted to extend his contract, it was a message the instructors that the board had not heard them.
Board member Rick Johnson disagreed.
"We do have to pull together, and we are not disregarding what we heard. We know that we must work closer with faculty for where we're going," he said. "But I believe with all my heart—and I would not vote for this if I didn't believe it—that Dr. Tribley's vision is the one we need to follow if we're going to right this school."
With the two sides appearing firmly entrenched, there is one more chance to avoid a strike.
The board announced that it is directing the administration to meet with the union on June 28. However, should it appear the two sides cannot come to an agreement, the college will file with the state Public Employment Relations Board to declare an impasse.
Faculty members have already stated publicly that should the board back Tribley, they would likely take a vote of no confidence against the president in the Academic Senate, followed by a strike vote later this year.
Editor's note: Jane Haines name was misspelled in an earlier version of the story. The story was updated to include new information about the source of payment for the newspaper ads.