Abraham A. Fuentes
The Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees approved a 230-unit student housing building and an incremental wage increase to get student-employee wages to $15 by July 2020, Tuesday afternoon in the Student Activities Center.
After years of planning, the SRJC board awarded the student housing project to collegiate estate services company Servitas. Many of the more than 50 audience members applauded the final approval of the proposal for the affordable housing for students.
SRJC President Frank Chong discussed the importance of the project after the meeting and how he hoped it would help students who struggle with the cost of living in Santa Rosa.
“I’ve talked to a lot of students who used to be students and they’re not students anymore because they can’t afford to live in Santa Rosa,” Chong said. “So, this will provide an option for them — an opportunity.”
He also commented on the plan to increase student wages. Chong described the plan as “incremental progress.”
“This is a beginning not an end. It’s a process,” he said.
Along with the incremental plan to increase wages, the housing project and the food pantry are additional ways Chong intends to help students at the SRJC deal with cost of living increases in Santa Rosa.
Vice President of Student Services Pedro Avila spoke about the approval of the boards plan to get to $15 by 2020. He agreed the plan was not perfect but said that it was good for students and the most the college could afford to do at this point is to get to a $14 minimum wage for student-employees by July 2019.
“It really was our best offer,” Avila said. “We really turned every stone and I advocated very, very strongly with our cabinet group to get us to $15 by next year, which is much earlier and would make us one of the first colleges above the municipality minimum wage.”
The plan to increase student wages will raise hourly wages from $12 to $13 in April 2019, then to $14 in July 2019 and finally to $15 in July of 2020. The board pointed out that the increase in wages will bring SRJC to $15 one and a half years before the state mandated increase to $15 per hour in 2022.
Board President Jordan Burns spoke confidently about the student-employee wage increases before the board members made their votes.
“I believe we will be the first community college in the state to offer above municipal or state minimum wage,” Burns said. “I think that is commendable of the progress we are making here.”
Chong and several of the trustees commended all of the students who advocated for the increase in a professional and reasonable manner.
“I want to appreciate MEChA and their advocacy,” Chong said.
At the beginning of the meeting several advocates came to speak again about the reasons they hoped to reach a $15 student-employee minimum wage at the SRJC.
Danny Pablo, a Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanista de Aztlán (MEChA) member and student-trustee candidate, read a letter to Chong before they voted on the issue to incrementally increase student employee wages. The statement was made in anticipation of the board approving its version of a student-employee wage increase rather than MEChA’s plan for an immediate increase to $15.
The club has been advocating for increased wages since November 2018, and they are concerned about employee hours being decreased in order to follow. In the letter it stated that MEChA wanted a guarantee of no decrease in student employee hours and referenced the average wage per hour a student made compared to an administrator.
“MEChA believes it’s unfair for a student worker to be making $12 on average while administrators are making up to $153 on average, according to transparentcalifornia.org,” Pablo said.
After the meeting, MEChA co-chair Jocelyn Toscano said she was disappointed and upset that the board decided to approve a decision that did not guarantee to student hours.
“We will continue to fight for student wages to be $15 now, with no cuts to either hour or students. As well, we will ask for the retroactive pay for students who are owed money who were not given their wage increase as a supervisor,” Toscano said.
Also, during the meeting, SRJC foster youth program NextUp coordinator Rebecca Levelle held back tears as she talked about the groups of foster students who she works with. She explained how NextUp, which is part of the Extended Opportunity and Services (EOPS) program, has expanded from 10 to 25 districts, and how Bear Cub Scholars has helped students overcome many types of barriers.
Levelle recognized Isaiah Carter as a NextUp student who has overcome many barriers and will be performing the acclaimed American College Theatre Festival. Carter discussed how growing up he had no one to rely on, lack of resources and lack of support. He said that the EOPS program inspired him to be a better, then thanked Levelle and all of the EOPS staff for their help.
“You give us encouragement, treat us with respect and listen to our problems,” Carter said to Levelle and the EOPS staff. “Above all, you provide us with love, support and a home away from home.”
After the meeting, Chong reflected on moving information from the foster youth presentation.
“They are one of my favorite programs,” Chong said. “They do amazing work.”
Student Support Services TRiO Health Care Occupation Education (HOPE) program director Jeannie Dulberg discussed how her program had increased grant funding by $83,000. According to Dulberg, the program has had a 75-person wait list without outreach, which she attributes to word of mouth from satisfied program members.
Also, Associate Dean of Workforce Development Brad Davis announced that the Employee of the month was administrative assistant Jamie Longnecker. Davis commenced Longnecker for her unique approach to improving productivity and her exceptional attitude that she brings to work each day.
“Jamie has revitalized the department by always keeping her students in mind,” Davis said. “In her work environment [Jamie] creates a fun, jovial atmosphere coupled with hard work and focus.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Oak Leaf advisor Anne Belden proudly announced the success of several of her students from their recent trip to Sacramento, Calif. For the Journalism Association of Community Colleges conference. Belden recognized the work of several of her students but acknowledge the hard work of all the journalists all the student-run news organization.
The next open Board of Trustee meeting will be held on at 4 p.m. May 12 in the Girvin Student Activities Center on the Santa Rosa campus.