Peraza and Stewart on Southwestern College Board Accountability

Southwestern Community College (SWC), located in Chula Vista, has experienced rough times in the past. The college’s governing board was affiliated with corruption leading up to the end of 2010. Since then, the Southwestern College board has been trying to move in the right direction.

In November of 2010, former Superintendent of SWC Raj Chopra resigned from office after an ongoing financial scandal for the misuse of Proposition R funds. Proposition R is a $389 million bond measure for construction of SWC facilities that was passed by voters in 2008.

Chopra and his assistants were expending Proposition R funds for, “fundraisers for board incumbents, soliciting funds from contractors who benefited from Proposition R, and spending Southwestern College Foundation monies on questionable and frivolous activities.”

An investigation concluded in March of 2012 regarding the foul play of the former governing board. The San Diego Reader wrote about the investigation stating:

Southwestern’s review, like the district attorney’s report, demonstrates the complicated system of gifting, campaign donating, and contract awarding.

Expenses in the report included the following: $1,450 in golf rounds, $1,700 in dinners, and $3,000 on events.

Candidate Humberto Peraza Photo credit: theswcsun.com

Current board trustee Humberto Peraza has been active in changing the culture of SWC. In May 2012, he championed a campaign finance reform for board elections. Peraza said, “It’s about transparency and rebuilding trust in the community and showing them, ‘Hey, we’re trying to do it right’.”

The measure limits campaign donations to $1,000 per donor. The college’s paper, The Southwestern Sun, quoted Peraza stating it’s, “an attempt to minimize the influence construction companies and architects can have on board elections and district decision making.”

Humberto Peraza helped re-evaluate Proposition R contracts and funds. In response to the mishandling by the past board, he stated, “People that are paying for those bonds should be the ones [who benefit]. If we can do that we can revitalize our local economy rather than money going somewhere else.”

In an interview this month with The Southwestern Sun, he gave his overall perspective on serving the board:

Doing the right thing, being a transparent, open government creates trust on campus in the community. I am running to continue to make those reforms, see that finished and see Southwestern College become the shining example for the rest of the region.

Humberto Peraza began serving the Southwestern College board in August 2011 when former trustee Nick Aguilar retired. Peraza was appointed to serve the remainder of Aguilar’s term and the seat is up for election this November. Firefighter and former school administrator Bud McLeroy and Humberto Peraza are competing for seat number three on the SWC board.

Another candidate running for a seat on the Southwestern College board this November is William Stewart. He is competing for seat number one on the SWC board against Elizabeth Jean Roach. William Stewart has been a professor of philosophy at San Diego City College for twenty-six years and runs his own business.

Candidate William Stewart credit: legacy.utsandiego.com

William Stewart hopes to assist the school with further reforms and ensure that Proposition R is implemented properly. He believes his financial background makes him fit for keeping SWC on track. Stewart states:

The old misuse of building funds in the past could have been prevented if there were board members that were familiar with building and bidding processes as well as skilled at reviewing complex financial reports.

William Stewart also emphasizes AB 1725, which is an assembly bill for shared governance of California Community Colleges.

Heavy top down management is what got Southwestern College into trouble not that very long ago. Effective shared governance is the way out. Shared governance is not simple a pair of words, it is the key to a healthy college.

He and his wife, Andrea Singer, have collaborated to use art and philosophy to make a positive impact for substance abusers. Students from their classes created artwork in connection with recovering substance abusers to reflect the struggles.

In March 2012, the SWC governing board presented their re-evaluation of Proposition R funds. The presentation highlighted the past controversy and made it clear to avoid further conflicts of interest.

Southwestern Community College was on accreditation probation starting in February 2010, but was reaffirmed in June 2011. The school offers more than 320 associates degrees and certifications. The college enrolls around 7,000 full-time students and 13,000 part-time students.