Credit: Andrew Reed/EdSource
Peralta's trustees convene for a board meeting in October 2019. From left: Former Peralta trustee Karen Weinstein, Peralta board president Julina Bonilla, Peralta trustee Linda Handy and former Peralta student trustee Dowell Stanley.

An Alameda County Civil Grand Jury report released Monday criticized the Peralta Community College District’s board of trustees for infighting, unhealthy governance and ineffective leadership.

The report identified multiple problems that have long plagued Peralta’s leadership. One of 73 districts in California’s 116 community college system, the Peralta district oversees four Bay Area campuses – Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland, Berkeley City College and College of Alameda. All four campuses serve about 30,000 students.

“Tension, poor communication, lack of unified goals, and divisive individual behavior at Peralta have resulted in the board’s inability to fulfill its mandate effectively,” according to the report. “Interference in the traditional roles of the chancellor, secret meetings, and backroom dealing destroy staff morale and the board’s relationship with the administrative team. Without reform or change in board behavior, Peralta’s students, so in need of this essential institution, will continue to suffer.”

California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who leads the statewide system office, is facing pressure to intervene and fix Peralta. Oakley was expected in January to decide whether to increase his office’s oversight of the district and possibly appoint a special trustee, who would likely have far-reaching powers. Only twice previously has the state chancellor’s office and the systemwide board of governors assumed power from a locally elected governing board: at the City College of San Francisco in 2013 and at Compton College in 2004. However, Oakley hasn’t made a decision.

Rafael Chavez, a spokesman in the chancellor’s office, said Oakley and his staff were reviewing the civil grand jury report but would not comment.

The civil grand jury, which consists of 19 citizen volunteers, has the power to act as a watchdog on local government and to make recommendations for reforms. The Peralta investigation was launched after the grand jury received eight formal complaints about trustees serving in early 2020, “all alleging different manifestations of trustee misconduct or a broken board culture.”

The report found multiple instances between 2018 and 2020 of board members interfering in chancellors’ recommended appointments or hiring of employees to the point that they compromised a “fair and independent hiring process.”

In a statement, Peralta’s interim chancellor, Jannett N. Jackson, thanked the civil grand jury for its “effort and constructive criticism of — and recommendations to — the District.” Jackson said the report outlines problems that the district is currently trying to address.

Jackson, however, also characterized the report as lacking “formal input from Peralta prior to the publishing” and that the findings “were impacted by the fact that they adopted certain allegations and complaints without a contextual understanding of District issues.”

“The civil grand jury did not interview all relevant witnesses and appears to have unfairly discounted certain evidence, which may have led them to some faulty conclusions,” she said. “Nevertheless, we believe the district is already on the right path to addressing the issues and concerns raised by the civil grand jury.”

The grand jury concluded that the board’s failures had hurt students.  “Lack of leadership experience and continuity in critical positions, wasted resources, unfilled key positions, and poor staff morale resulted in an unhealthy atmosphere for a student population that so deserves a first-rate education.”

The civil grand jury also found:

  • Some individual board members were disrespectful and demeaning to the staff at the college. In some cases, the comments directed at staff were “racially insensitive which consequently damaged district morale.”
  • The board violated the Brown Act open public meeting law by secretly meeting with other trustees and academic leaders to discuss district business in July 2020.

The civil grand jury made several recommendations to repair Peralta’s board governance problems, including annual training and amending its policies, so chancellors retain hiring authority.

The grand jury civil report’s findings mirror long-standing issues identified by former Peralta chancellors, trustees, Oakland’s NAACP chapter, and the Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team , a state-funded agency that provides financial oversight of K-12 and community colleges. In the last two years, three chancellors have left the embattled district. Those groups and individuals have been calling for state intervention to fix financial mismanagement, academic probation and low morale amid a battle to maintain the colleges’ accreditation. All four campuses were placed on probation last year by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Share Article

Comments (5)

Leave a Reply to Rebecca Wu

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Rebecca Wu 4 months ago4 months ago

    Another major issue, is unlike some few states, California leaves no power to the Governor to remove a Trustee. Grand Juries can’t. The only option is the election and or recall. Voters are important but we have government checks and balances as not all voters know or understand corruption. Our state needs to add or lobby for laws to allow the governor to remove unfit trustees.

    They can ignore a Grand Jury in this situation in Peralta. Yes they can.

  2. Rebecca Wu 4 months ago4 months ago

    The kids and staff at this district lucked out to have either the county COE, district board, or the legislature request a FCMAT review as CDE cannot do so, nor can individuals based on what Michael Fine told me and when I have called and spoken to others in the FCMAT office.

  3. Rebecca Wu 4 months ago4 months ago

    It took the chancellors leaving and speaking out, request from either the district board, county, or legislature in Peralta to get a FCMAT as individuals cannot make request even with extensive evidence. Some Trustees, and the NACAAP got involved. But what happens when they don't? The problem is there is no accountability outside of local control when COE are incompetent or claim no real authority or do not request a FCMAT. The … Read More

    It took the chancellors leaving and speaking out, request from either the district board, county, or legislature in Peralta to get a FCMAT as individuals cannot make request even with extensive evidence. Some Trustees, and the NACAAP got involved. But what happens when they don’t? The problem is there is no accountability outside of local control when COE are incompetent or claim no real authority or do not request a FCMAT. The CDE must be changed, as the law already give them authority in Williams Act but they claim they don’t have it and it’s their cloudy interpretation of the laws that are not in he umbrella interest of the child.

    Historically, one of the most profound Dissents came from the Civil Rights leader who hired Cesar Chavez and was one of the few Hispanics elected to the Assembly. He did not take lobbying money. His Dissent in Peralta Community College Decision 77 is worth the read.
    https://www.perb.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/decisionbank/decision-0077E.pdf

  4. Rebecca Wu 4 months ago4 months ago

    It is nice to see a working grand jury. I complained of just or far worse situations for six different times over years for a grand jury request in Sacramento with no review at all. It should not take eight to make the complaint looked it.

  5. Justin Felter 4 months ago4 months ago

    It a shame to witness a district with four great colleges and surrounding communities suffer from unethical practices. My sources inside the district have informed me that the board and interim-chancellor recently compromised the search process for a new permanent chancellor in order to retain power and limit transparency. Since the majority of the district employees (i.e. faculty) are off contract during the summer months, so they will be blinded of this news … Read More

    It a shame to witness a district with four great colleges and surrounding communities suffer from unethical practices. My sources inside the district have informed me that the board and interim-chancellor recently compromised the search process for a new permanent chancellor in order to retain power and limit transparency. Since the majority of the district employees (i.e. faculty) are off contract during the summer months, so they will be blinded of this news of the search process failing to produce stability. I hope the state chancellor intervenes for the sake of underserved students.