Mismanagement plagues Palomar College

A view of part of the Palomar College campus in San Marcos is shown in this undated photo./Palomar College

After a campus visit, a state-funded agency, the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistant Team (FCMAT) issued its November 8, 2019 report, describing Palomar College’s financial position and management practices. The news wasn’t good.

The report gave the school’s Fiscal Health Risk Analysis a 44.5% rating, indicating its probability of insolvency in the near future. According to FCMAT, in two years the school will have drained all its reserves, forcing it to borrow $6.5 million from an external source to stay solvent.

Here’s but a sample of what FCMAT found.

–The college has not provided clearly written and articulated budget assumptions, supporting revisions, to the board at least quarterly.

–After eight years in the position, the chief business officer has recently been “separated from the office.” An interim appointment has been assigned.

–The managers and staff responsible for the college’s human resources, payroll and budgets do not meet regularly to discuss issues and improve processes. With no formal documentation in meeting minutes to show communication about the personnel budget, one board member says the report reveals the offices are not on speaking terms.

–The college does not have a comprehensive enrollment management plan. Enrollment projections and assumptions are not based on historical data, demographic trend analysis, high school enrollments, and community participation rates. They’re based only on goals developed in master plans using prior year actuals as a baseline.

In a December 18, 2019 San Diego Union Tribune article, Palomar College Puts President on Paid Administrative Leave, Paul Sisson writes: “Craig Thompson, president of the faculty senate, said opening satellite campuses in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo simultaneously put too large a drain on resources. Thompson said a decision to increase hiring, which brought 40 additional teachers onto Palomar’s rolls last year, contributed to faculty dissatisfaction with Blake’s leadership.”

Not long after Oside News published my November 16, 2019 article, Palomar College President Not Ready for Prime Time, I discovered The Palomar Files: Candid News about Palomar College, a campus blog with postings from two faculty members: the English Department’s Dr. Rocco Versaci and the Math Department’s Professor Shannon Lienhart.

The credibility of these two can be measured by their combined 50 years of teaching at the college and the stellar ratings they get from their students, which can be found at ratemyprofessors.com.

In his post, Finding the Leak, Dr. Versaci graphed the college’s total revenues and expenditures over the last several years, pointing to 2017-18, the year the college opened its two educational centers in Fallbrook and Rancho Bernardo, when expenditures began to surpass revenues. He writes, “Using these short-term revenues, the district made long-term expenditure decisions based not on data, but on hope. Despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence that the District’s enrollment goals were not being realized, the expenditures continued to increase unabated as though the temporary fixes would continue indefinitely.”

In her post, A Half-Truth is Not the Truth, Professor Lienhart writes, “Three months after Palomar College President Joi Blake opened the North and South Education Centers simultaneously, the school issued a news release, declaring, ‘Enrollments are up across Palomar Community College District, as fall semester numbers exceed expectations at Fallbrook’s North Education Center and the South Education Center in Rancho Bernardo.’ 

“The numbers, however, tell a different story. Enrollment was predicted to grow by 7% in the year after centers were opened. But instead of growing enrollment, the college suffered a 1% decrease that year.”

It’s hard to believe Palomar College has no comprehensive enrollment management plan. I don’t know much about school finance, but I learned a lot about enrollment management from my 14 years of experience at Indiana State University and Cal State San Marcos, where responsibility for enrollment planning and management was in my job description. My enrollment management teams included representatives from the faculty, as well as the offices of business and student affairs. My goal was to keep the campus community informed of enrollment projections and our success or failure in meeting our targets.

At its December 17, 2019 meeting, Palomar’s Governing Board received a call from California Community Colleges Chancellor Elois Ortiz Oakley, who informed them that the worst case scenario for dealing with the school’s financial crisis would be for the Community College Board of Governors to assign a special trustee to oversee the college’s operations, replacing Palomar’s board until the college regained solvency.

Would the three of the five board members who’ve supported President Blake’s administration see the irony in that?

Stay tuned.


After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, Richard Riehl began a second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for his opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press. For more, visit The Riehl World.


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