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Report on Delta College: Positive

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Posted: Friday, May 29, 2009 10:00 pm

San Joaquin Delta College, mired in controversy and criticism a year ago, is making clear progress under new trustees and a bond management team.

That's the assessment of the San Joaquin County grand jury, which blistered the college last June for a variety of ethical and financial lapses.

A follow-up report released Friday was almost cheery in tone, saying the college leadership is more focused, responsive and transparent.

One area still needing work: the citizen committee charged with overseeing bond spending, which the jury believes still needs more flexibility and authority.

"We see progress," said Dave Renison, grand jury foreman. "We're very pleased with the changes. No institution is 100 percent perfect. But this is very encouraging."

In its report last year, the jury said the college board was politically fractured and fiscally irresponsible. Much of the criticism was aimed at how funds generated by Measure L, a $250 million bond measure, had been wasted.

A special scolding was directed at the trustees for their handling of a new satellite campus at Mountain House near Tracy, where costs had soared from $55 million to $94 million.

Since the report was issued, the board composition has changed dramatically; two trustees chose not to seek re-election, two who did were defeated, and one resigned as part of a plea deal related to double-billing for travel expenses.

The jury cited a new spirit of cooperation and openness among current board members, noting that trustees have adopted a code of ethics and standards.

They also praised the work of a new bond management team, led by Lee Belarmino, vice president for information technology. The team reports to President Raúl Rodriguez and is broadly responsible for coordinating and tracking varied aspects of the bond, from construction to personnel to finances.

As suggested by the jury, the board has trimmed ambitions for satellite campuses and also reduced its reliance on consultants. Along with scaling back the Mountain House campus, a plan for a Lodi campus on Victor Road has been shelved by the board.

One of the new trustees is Taj Khan, who represents the Lodi area. Khan said Friday that he was heartened by the follow-up report.

He remains hopeful that Delta may one day have a stronger presence in Lodi.

"The trend in community colleges is to concentrate on main campuses and have outlying centers that are rather specific or specialized," he said. "I remain optimistic something will be developed for Lodi, but nothing is set yet," said Khan.

One continuing issue is the role of a citizens group established to provide oversight for the bond. The jury believes the committee should meet more frequently and review projects before they are approved by the board.

Renison, the jury foreman, said limits on the committee's scope may reflect a lack of clarity in state law relating to such groups generally. The state legislature and the Little Hoover Commission, a state research and investigative body, are reviewing possible reforms, he said.

Greg Greenwood, Delta spokesman, said the college is looking into the jury's continued concerns regarding the citizen oversight group.

"Overall, we're quite pleased with the tone of the report," he said.

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