Impassioned monologues from a handful of public speakers failed to persuade the Gavilan College School Board to reverse an “appalling” $42,000 raise, which the board approved seven months ago for college President Steve Kinsella.
The swift re-vote happened in the blink of an eye Tuesday night during the regular Board of Education meeting inside the campus student center, where community members like Mickie Solorio Luna looked directly at Kinsella and asked him to “consider the fact that a pay increase is an injustice to all of us.”
Several attendees spoke their minds for a good 15 minutes on the agenda item, titled “discussion and action on amendment increasing the compensation and term of college president’s employee contract.”
History from October 2011 then repeated itself as the board voted 6-1 to approve Kinsella’s controversial pay bump, which, “outside of these walls, is definitely unpopular,” stated Dom Payne, a trustee on the Gilroy Unified School District who spoke during public comment.
With the seven-member board expeditiously casting their “yes” votes in a matter of seconds, trustee Tony Ruiz held the lone opposing vote for a second time.
Aside from a brief statement delivered by Board President Laura Perry, trustee Ruiz was the only board member who voiced his thoughts on what one speaker referred to as an “outrageous” raise. Kinsella’s adjusted gross income is $308,080, which includes his benefits and what is paid into his pension fund. Kinsella did not say anything at the meeting regarding this agenda item.
“I’m hoping that all this experience the board had will make us more alert and more active,” said Ruiz. “I just wanted to say, this is the system we have: Democracy is the best thing. It’s not always pleasant … but that’s the way it works.”
The board’s decision re-cements Kinsella’s lucrative pay increase, which was approved with a 6-1 vote during a special closed meeting Oct. 26 and required just a 24-hour notice to the public.
The salary hike – which came after Kinsella was named a finalist for the chancellor post at West Valley-Mission Community College District – bumped Kinsella’s base pay Jan. 1 from $234,090 to $255,090, included 24 days of paid vacation each year and a $1,000 monthly expense allowance. Kinsella’s salary is set to reach $276,090 by 2015 – with no apparent cap – when he would also receive a $31,500 lump sum if he stays with the college until that point.
Speakers who addressed the board Tuesday evening came equipped to present their case, armed with a cache of facts and the argument that “exorbitant” raises send “the wrong message of value to (Gavilan’s) students and the community.”
Delivering a statement that echoed slogans chanted by protestors at the Occupy Gilroy movement earlier this year, community member Rebeca Armendariz told trustees “we are with the 91 percent.”
The comment was made in reference to an online poll conducted via the Dispatch website, where 9 percent of voters agreed with the raise and 91 percent disagreed.
“When times are tough, those at the top of the pay scale should seriously consider asking that their own compensation not rise,” said Armendariz. “Shared sacrifice makes difficulties a little easier to bear.”
She highlighted several instances where public employees demonstrated leadership through example, something Armendariz asserts is “sorely missing in this budget crisis.”
Armendariz described two Santa Clara County judges who, in 2009, “stood shoulder to shoulder with court employees” and shared the pain by taking a 4.6 percent pay cut. She also cited a decision made by Morgan Hill Unified School District Superintendent Wes Smith, who in June 2011 turned down a three percent salary raise.
“While I’m not sure you get a whole lot our of symbolic cuts … I’d like to lead by example and for employees to consider options like not taking a pay raise as opposed to loading up classrooms and laying off employees,” read Armendariz, quoting Superintendent Smith from a Morgan Hill Times article printed in June 2009.
“That being said, symbolism is an important element of management,” Armendariz continued. “Why doesn’t Mr. Kinsella make it easy too, and reject the increase?”
Speaker Aurelio Zuniga, a former San Benito High School trustee, took the opportunity to grill the board on particulars that have “yet to be explained and properly justified.”
The $31,500 lump sum that Kinsella will receive if he stays with the college is especially troublesome to Zuniga, who claims the rationale behind the amount is something of an enigma.
“Why did six members of the board think that was necessary?” Zuniga queried. “Why not $20,000 or $15,000? There is no explanation on how (the board) came to that.”
He also wants to know why the $42,000 salary increase – an “illogical” move that “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever” – wasn’t enough of an incentive for Kinsella to remain at his presidential post.
Zuniga and Mickie Solorio Luna were two of at least six attending members from the League of United Latin American Citizens chapter in Hollister. Known as LULAC, the organization submitted on May 11 a request to Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, to investigate allegations the Gavilan board violated the Brown Act at the Oct. 26 meeting.
The Brown Act – which is the law that requires public accessibility of meetings among elected officials – also prohibits government boards from considering salary increases in closed session, and also mandates that meeting agendas must include brief descriptions about the discussion or action under consideration.
Based on advice from the Board’s legal council, however, Board President Laura Perry maintains trustees were in compliance with the Brown Act. Her decision to put Kinsella’s raise back on the agenda was “just in the interest of being transparent,” she said.
A pair of Gavilan teachers who listened intently during the meeting said they came specifically to observe the agenda item pertaining to Kinsella’s raise, but did not want to give their names or comment on the issue.
Assemblyman Alejo did not attend, but sent one of his field representatives, Tony Madrigal.
“We really want to listen to the concerns of the people regarding this issue,” said Madrigal. “So that’s what we’re here to do.”
Standing in the parking lot after exiting the meeting, LULAC member Guille Reynoso said she was “disappointed” with the outcome of the meeting.
“I came to see if the board would reconsider its decision,” she said. “I was hoping (trustees) would really consider the public’s opinion.”
In a press release sent Wednesday, Alejo reiterated his “continued disagreement and disappointment” concerning the board’s re-affirmation of Kinsella’s raise, writing:
“As a 1994 alumnus and former Student Body Senator at Gavilan College, I find the Board’s actions unresponsive to the students, staff and community’s concerns over this unjustified pay increase. As elected and represented leaders we must always represent and listen to the concerns of our constituents. I hope and strongly encourage College President Kinsella to show courage and leadership by voluntarily rejecting the pay increase and to continue to work with the college community in addressing the challenges the college will be facing in this economic crisis.”