September 25, 2022 Correction: An earlier version of this story misused square brackets in a quote delivered by Merritt College President David Johnson. The earlier version of this article inserted [CoA’s] into the quote when it should have been [Merritt College’s].
September 20, 2022
By Ryan Austin, Staff Writer
On September 13th, during their first meeting of the Fall Semester, the Peralta Community College District (PCCD) Board of Trustees heard reports regarding the impacts of each school’s Fall enrollment incentive programs, approved consent budget items, and received feedback from the public regarding a proposed change to the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) plan that some said they felt would unnecessarily jeopardize healthcare access to former employees of the district.
College presidents informed the board during their reports that each of the colleges in the district have experienced increased or stable enrollment relative to the previous academic year.
At the time of the meeting, Berkeley City College (BCC) was at 81% of their target for full-time enrolled students (FTES) with 1,272 students – a slight increase from the previous Fall. According to BCC President Angélica Garcia, that number is expected to increase as the semester progresses and late start classes begin.
College of Alameda (CoA) President Nathaniel Jones III, recently promoted to acting Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration, delivered his last report to the board on his final day in office. The district has filled the vacant position by naming Diana Bajrami as acting President of CoA. In his report to the board, Jones detailed the success of the “$500 On Us” incentive program which gave CoA a 14% increase in enrollment compared to August of 2021.
Enrollment at Laney is up 11% from last year at this time despite an equivalent 8% reduction in courses available from the same time the previous year. Laney College President Rudy Besikof highlighted recent media coverage surrounding the “Fall is Free” program and announced that, as of September 1, Laney had been accepted into the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities as a full-fledged member.
In his report from Merritt College, President David Johnson wrote that he expected “to surpass [Merritt College’s] FTES total from Fall 2021.” An exact figure was not presented due to late start and dual enrollment sections that had not yet been counted.
The board voted unanimously to approve the items on the consent calendar, but pulled the travel request for Kyana Gilani, an international student support specialist. The travel request and expense claim submitted by Gilani, for the amount of $4,753, would have paid for a four day tour to the cities of Merida and Cancun.
The purpose of the trip was to recruit international students into the Peralta school system. After a brief discussion, the board proceeded to vote and approved the remaining travel expenses and other articles on the consent calendar.
The line items on the consent calendar ranged from academic affairs, such as contracts with Turnitin, to human resources expenses and facility maintenance.
During the public comment, the board heard from members of the community including current and former employees of the district as well as representatives of the Peralta Teachers Federation (PFT 1603), the Peralta Retirees Organization (PRO), and SEIU 1021. The discourse raised during the 45-minute allotment for comment included concerns regarding a proposed change to the PCCD OPEB plan, the necessity of maintaining a mask mandate for in person classes, negotiations between the PFT and the district, as well as ongoing bargaining between SEIU 1021 and the district.
The board eventually voted to extend the time for public comment to include all the remaining individuals that would have been excluded due to time constraint.
Opening the public comment, the board was addressed by retired faculty member Jerry Herman, who expressed concerns about the “sacred promise” between the district and retirees – that eligible faculty hired before July 1, 2004 would retain lifetime health insurance coverage under traditional Medicare.
”My colleagues and I are here to tell you about proposals made by Alliant Insurance Services regarding retirees’ healthcare benefits that, if the Board of Trustees chooses to adopt them, constitutes a significant broken promise,” Herman said.
“That contractual promise is this: Peralta employees hired before July 1, 2004, were guaranteed to retain the Peralta healthcare benefits that were in effect on the day we retired, for the rest of our lives,” Herman explained, adding that the contractual promise was “non-negotiable, locked in, a legal contract, and to us Peralta employees who served our students and communities for so many years, often sacrificing monetary raises in order to retain our promised lifetime benefits, this was a sacred moral obligation.”
“I’m 84 years old,” Herman continued, explaining that at his age, “when promises to you are broken, there isn’t as much time to set things right.”
“Of chief concern to us as retirees, one of the proposals would shove a large cohort of retirees into something called Medicare Advantage. Which, despite its misleading title, is not medicare and does not give retirees any advantage,” Herman said.
Concerns raised by Herman and other public speakers, including former PCCD chancellor Jose Ortiz, included reduced access to medical providers and the potential for denial of services by the proposed replacement insurance provider, Alliant Insurance Services.
In an actuarial report to the board, Will Kane of Total Compensation Systems, Inc. suggested that the proposed change to the OPEB healthcare plan would reduce costs in excess of $50 million over the course of 20 years.
Advocates of the current plan disagree, and claim that since the district does not directly pay for the health insurance benefits of retirees, the new plan will not save the district any money and will only serve to put “profits before patients.”
The next meeting of the Board of Trustees will be held on September 27. Anyone interested in more information on how to view the meeting or participate in public comment can find it here.