Thousands of Peralta students overcharged


  • Thousands of students attending the Peralta Colleges were charged for a fee that should have never been implemented
  • Had the Student Representation Fee passed, students would have tens of thousands of dollars to advocate on behalf of the student body
  • Student representatives failed to organize the pass the measure
  • The ballot measure was placed on the ballot by trustees and administrators improperly, a student expect says
  • Due to more budget cuts, student representatives say the fee is needed
By Reginald James Editor
Thousands of students attending the Peralta Colleges were overcharged for a student fee that was erroneously implemented in the fall of 2009. The fee was later repealed and funds were credited back to students.

An election on each of the district's four campuses was held in the spring of 2009 for Proposition B: Student Representation Fee. The measure asked if students wanted to pay a $1 fee for "student government to advocate on your behalf."

"Proposition B requires all Peralta students to pay a $1 Student Representation Fee per semester," according to an email sent out to all students in May 2009. This same message was posted on the Peralta website, and numerous posters on campus.

At other colleges throughout the state, revenue for the fee is used for travel to and from conferences where legislative matters are discussed. Students may refuse to pay the fee for religious, political, financial or moral reasons, according to the Code.

After the Tower informed officials that Proposition B did not pass, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Services and Admissions Jim Bracy took responsibility for failing to provide oversight of the campus elections.

Representatives from each campus emailed Bracy stating that the proposition had passed. He said he should have verified the election results sent to him by the campuses, instead of assuming the information provided was accurate.

“Upon closer review of my calculations of the spring 2009 elections, Proposition B (student representation fee) did not quite achieve the required two-third passage vote,” Bracy wrote in a Sept. 2 email to district administrators. “Consequently, I am asking the administration at each college to direct the bursars to immediately suspend the collection of the $1 student representation fee.”

An estimate 3,000 students were charged, according to district officials. The student’s payments were credited towards other fees, Bracy said.

Many student representatives were disappointed the proposition failed.

“I’m disappointed they assumed it passed,” Student Trustee Yvonne Thompson said in a fall 2009 interview. “Makes me wonder, ‘if you don’t check that, what else didn’t you check?’”

With this year’s spike in student enrollment, the fee could have raised at least $25,000 for student advocacy at Laney College alone.

“If [the] rep fee had passed, we would have used it for budget cut issues,” said ASLC President Ju Hong, who voted for the proposition. He was under the impression Proposition B had passed, but found out at a fall Board of Trustees meeting it hadn’t.

Hong said the money could’ve been used for this to fund ASLC’s recent bus trip for a march and rally at the State Capitol in Sacramento. The Laney Tower reported students were encouraged to “beg and plead” >Chancellor Elihu Harris for funding for the trip, despite students simultaneously protesting Harris, district administrators and trustees over disastrous budget cuts.

Lack of publicity
Proposition B failed last spring due to a lack of publicity, according to multiple sources. No information about the proposition was provided to the Laney Tower prior to the election, and minimal information was on Peralta’s special Referendum 2009 website.

Students also did not campaign for it and the student governments were “not communicating with their constituency,” Thompson said.

The Proposition was bundled with last spring’s Proposition A: AC Transit EasyPass by the Peralta Board’s Student Services Committee, according to that committee’s minutes. The board adopted a resolution in March 2009 to place the measure on the student ballot.

Although student representatives active at the time said they were not well informed of the initiative, past student governments have pushed for the fee.

ASLC representatives pushed for the fee in the spring of 2004, according to Laney Tower reports. The four Associated Student Councils of Peralta (College of Alameda, Laney College and Merritt Collge in Oakland and Vista College, now Berkeley City College) got the go ahead to have a student election that year, according to the March 23, 2004 minutes of the board. The election's results were never published in the Laney Tower; however, election results obtained from the office of Laney College Student Activities Adviser Algeria Kirven show that the measure was passed at both Merritt and Laney College. Laney approved the measure by 71 percent while Merritt approved it with 67 percent. The measure only received 51 percent approval at COA. Election results from Vista could not be obtained from numerous sources.

In the fall of 2005, ASLC members mulled another run at the student representation fee. In the fall of 2007, the Associated Students of College of Alameda (ASCOA) adopted a resolution in favor of the student rep fee.

Although Proposition B received 69 percent approval at COA in 2009, it was not implemented.

“It was a district wide proposition,” Bracy said. “Not for an individual campus.”

ASCOA President Mali Watkins suspects the lack of information available may be why students on other campuses didn’t actively campaign to pass the proposition. He also paid the fee, but wonders where the money really went.

“We weren’t given much information about the proposition beforehand,” said Watkins, who was re-elected last spring. “We thought that it passed. Then we were told it was rescinded because it didn’t meet the minimum amount of votes required.” Watkins paid the fee, but does not know whether or not it was credited.
Watkins said, “I have no idea where the dollar went because it was such a minimum amount.”

Shoddy voting records

The code also requires a minimum number of students to vote in favor of the proposition for the election to be valid. The number of students voting in the election must be equal to or greater than the average number of students voting in the previous election, according to the code.

The various campuses did not have election results from previous years, according to Bracy. Officials were also unable to confirm what number, or source, was used to determine if the proposition met the minimum number of voting students required by the code for the election to be valid.

At the time, Merritt and BCC both had interim vice-presidents of student services (VPSS), Laney College’s VPSS was in his first year and the COA VPSS just returned from a short stint at the district as associate vice-chancellor.

Excluding Kirve, student activities advisers on the campuses contacted by the Tower were unable to provide past election results. With the exception of Laney College, student life personnel have also been unstable. Berkeley City College has been without an adviser this year. Merritt College's adviser left the district last year after allegedly misappropriating funds, according to sources.

Future action

While Bracy does not believe the current climate of increased student fees is appropriate for another go at the student rep fee, many student leaders say it is necessary to fight budget cuts.

A few student representatives thought the item would be a part of this year’s election. The item was to be placed on the ballot, according to the February 2010 minutes of the Board’s Student Services and Equity Committee. The measure was not included in this year’s election.

Rachael Richards, a senator with the Student Senate for California Community Colleges – a statewide student organization – said Peralta's election was a good example of how not to run an election.

"Each college's Associated Students call their own elections (or agree to have the elections as a district concerted event)," Richards said. She added each campus "must tally their own threshold, and votes at each college."

Posters on campus indicating the fee was to be implemented in the fall remain, just like some students’ hope that the proposition will eventually be passed.

“We need that advocacy fund,” Thompson said, encouraging student leaders to revisit the item. “It is important to the community colleges. We’re most affected [by budget cuts], she added. “We’ve got to get out there and advocate [and students] need funds to do that.”

Disclosure: Reginald James previously served as a Student Trustee of the Peralta Colleges from 2006-2008. At that time, he advocated for the implementation of the Student Representation Fee.

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