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State Is Silent on the 'Why' of SMC Decision

Chancellor's office won't give a detailed reason of just how Santa Monica College's plan for contract classes would break the law.

There are no plans for a legal analysis that explains why the head of California's community college system believes Santa Monica College's is illegal.

This week, officials in the Community Colleges chancellor's office told the Santa Monica Daily Press they were told by the attorney general's office the plan would have violated the state's education code.The decision comes after the college's board of trustees voted to postpone implementation of two-tiered system.

The paper reported that Paul Feist, vice chancellor of communications, said if Santa Monica College tried to move forward to offer some of its classes at-cost to students, the school would be vulnerable to legal action from the chancellor's office or other organizations.

"That's always been our opinion," Feist told Patch. "I don't know the legal reasons; I'm not privy to those conversations. There is no letter. There is no formal opinion."

Feist did say the chancellor's office contends that the state's education code does not allow schools to charge students the full cost of education. Santa Monica's plan would have had students paying $540 for some courses, more than three times the amount California residents currently pay with state tuition.

Fifty of the so-called "self-funded" classes were to be rolled out in a pilot program this summer in an attempt to continue offering necessary core classes that would otherwise not be held due to state budget cuts. The board of trustees on April 6 voted to postpone implementing the two-tiered system under pressure from the chancellor and from student and faculty opposition groups,

The college's public information officer, Bruce Smith, said it would be nearly impossible to comment on the opinion without an analysis.

"The college has not received any communication from the state attorney general's office or the California Community Colleges chancellor's office," Smith said. "We look forward to them sharing their legal analysis with the college. We also look forward to continuing the dialogue with the chancellor's office on ways community colleges can increase student access at a time of devastating state budget cuts."

The attorney general's office said Chancellor Jack Scott sought legal advice on the proposal, not a legal opinion. An attorney general spokeswoman declined to comment further.

The Community Colleges chancellor's office has never pursued litigation against a school for violations of the education code that deal with so-called contract education, Feist said. Under the traditional model of contract education, a school will offer training or classes at-cost to a business or organization.

If it ultimately moves forward with the two-tiered system, Santa Monica College would be the first to offer contracted courses to students. It would do so by establishing, then contracting with, a nonprofit education foundation.

"A student charged a fee by the contract education provider is making an optional payment no different from similar payments the student might make to other private education providers," Robert Meyers, the attorney representing Santa Monica College, wrote in an analysis to the California Community Colleges' vice chancellor for operations March 23.

"There is nothing in the education code that regulates the student’s choice to pay for optional contract education programs," Meyer wrote.

Last week, the college's District Planning and Advisory Council—a coalition of faculty, students and administrators—agreed to review the two-tiered-tuition plan with its constituencies before making a formal recommendation to the board of trustees, according to the student-run newspaper, the Corsair.

At its special meeting April 6, the board formally asked the council to advise College Superintendent Chui Tsang and trustees on future efforts to expand student access to classes.

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Rosanne Crawford April 27, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Good for you Santa Monica City College with your creative increased summer fees proposal. Go for it! I hope Santa Barbara City College will follow suit, we just almost had our entire summer session cut out because of $$ problems. We need creative solutions to save our Community College system. Rosanne Crawford Santa Barbara This is a great alternative for any student who would need a pre-requisite for a class to transfer into their next level of education or a special program so as not to loose their academic timeline.

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