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The Cuesta campaign kerfuffle

How one measure went so horribly, horribly wrong

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There’s good news for county taxpayer advocates: Cue the midgets and roll out the yellow brick road—it appears Cuesta’s plans of hastily plunking a Measure G redux on the Nov. 7 ballot are effectively dead. Ding, dong, and all of that.
 

ED AND EDUCATION :  A straight-faced Ed Maduli listened while a local resident called for his resignation in light of Measure G’s failure. The Board of Trustees has held numerous closed-session meetings over the past two weeks to conduct an annual evaluation of the Cuesta College vice president—and President Marie Rosenwasser—all of which led to speculation of a looming change in the college’s administration. - PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
  • PHOTO BY JESSE ACOSTA
  • ED AND EDUCATION : A straight-faced Ed Maduli listened while a local resident called for his resignation in light of Measure G’s failure. The Board of Trustees has held numerous closed-session meetings over the past two weeks to conduct an annual evaluation of the Cuesta College vice president—and President Marie Rosenwasser—all of which led to speculation of a looming change in the college’s administration.
# During a well-attended Board of Trustees meeting on July 5 at the SLO campus, frustrated residents aired grievances, hurled accusations, and otherwise pontificated before college representatives. Their hue and cry centered on the failure of the $310 million bond measure. The June 6 election saw the referendum item crash and burn, drawing opposition from 56 percent of county voters despite a $205,000 education campaign mounted by school administrators.
 
Outspoken opponent and retired businessman Al Brill went so far as to ask for the resignation of President Marie Rosenwasser and Vice President Ed Maduli. Brill accused the duo of misleading the board in a February discussion over public acceptance of the amount. The Arroyo Grande resident stated that he believed the administration deliberately cast a rosy hue on a winter town hall series that ultimately sent the board down the primrose path.
 
“You disrespected every taxpayer in that room,� Brill said at one such meeting in the south county. “This has damaged the college’s credibility beyond repair.�
 
Indeed, the minutes indicated that Rosenwasser testified to a perceived widespread community acceptance of the full bond amount at the Feb. 16 special meeting of the board. That meeting also featured a cavalcade of high-profile supporters of the $310 million figure—as opposed to the previously tested $200 million—including County Supervisor Katcho Achadjian and County Superintendent Julian Crocker.
 
Board Vice President Pat Mullen, who filled Sam Blakeslee’s spot when the assemblyman left to take office, maintained that the Board wasn’t deceived. Mullen said that he attended the workshop in Paso Robles and personally witnessed a healthy mix of concern and appreciation regarding the bond figure.
 
Mullen did, however, indicate a reticence to place the measure back on the ballot in November in light of the testimony given at the most recent open-session board meeting. He commented that the July 26 application and Aug. 11 filing deadlines for a new bond would leave far too little time to adequately assess all factors that led to Measure G’s demise.
 
And they were numerous.
 
Campaign organizer William Berry attributed the failure—indeed, the statewide failure of 38 percent of school bond measures in that election—to certain unforeseen sociopolitical winds. According to the campaign expert, polls conducted late in 2005 by his agency showed almost two-thirds support for the $310 million figure—numbers additionally hampered by an excess sampling of Republicans.
 
Berry pointed to a low turnout—sparked by an overwhelmingly negative Democratic primary race—and an abundance of bond packages in recent years as factors in Measure G’s defeat.
 
In a more regional evaluation, locals added their concerns over plans to build a south county campus so close to Santa Barbara County’s neighboring Allan Hancock College, the administration’s unwillingness to explore less-expensive construction options, and the notion of taking out a 30-year bond for technology that will prove obsolete in less than a decade. One north county resident even placed the blame for Paso Robles’ failed school-improvement bond on Measure G, while other folks suggested that a replay attempt might endanger other November efforts.
 
San Luis Obispo mayor Dave Romero and Grover Beach mayor Larry Versaw both voiced concern regarding the welfare of the sales tax bumps that virtually every major SLO County municipality plans to lay out over the next few months.
 
“It’s your decision,� Romero told the Board. “But remember—it affects us all.�
 
The most compelling indictment came from Cuesta educators who felt that their input in the overall process was relegated to the hinterlands, if not flagrantly ignored. Lecturer Marilyn Rossa bashed the board for the oversight and argued that forcing another measure with most teachers on summer leave would this time totally exempt the testimony of a core group of stakeholders.
 
“This bond bombed because of economic factors known in February, but it seems like business as usual tonight,� she railed. “Take two years—do it right this time.�
 
By adjournment, board member Gaye Galvan called for another meeting to discuss the possibility of a lesser bond, but the board appeared less than enthused.
 
“We are in dire need,� said Cuesta College Foundation director June Stephens. “To wait two years, when we have buildings crumbling, is depressing to me, and I think it affects the morale.�
 
Even a lesser effort would require another campaign, and, after the June 6 flop, those funds will prove harder to come by. A breakdown of the contributions to the last fund—a public document available through the county clerk—shows several campus administrative bodies, several more individual administrators, and a few building contractors on the list. But the largest contribution, which accounted for roughly $104,000, came from the general fund of the Cuesta College Foundation, a body for which Board Vice President Maduli is treasurer.
 
“The whole thing is very incestuous,� Brill remarked.
  
Officials with the Foundation said that it’s not unusual for a college administrator to serve as a liaison to its nonprofit arm.
A few donors to the foundation voiced their displeasure at the apparent flow of unrestricted funds toward a political campaign rather than educational resources.
  
“It wasn’t anybody’s gift,� Stephens said.
  
She explained that the organization consulted its lawyers before offering the money—to avoid a tax-exemption-related legal snafu—and that every cent of the contribution came from interest accrued through Foundation investments.
  
One six-figure benefactor was rumored to plan to take the podium, but didn’t appear. She told New Times that she meant to speak at a different meeting. ∆

Staff Writer Patrick M. Klemz can be reached at pklemz@
newtimesslo.com.

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