Jason Troia is the Long Beach City College administration's worst nightmare. "I just really like doing research," the student trustee says with a little laugh that accompanies most stories when he talks about LBCC. Troia began poring over reams of documents he's compiled in the months since hearing that 11 of the school's vocational programs had been cut due to budget problems: Auto Body, Aviation, Audio Production, Interior Design, Welding, Automotive Technology, Real Estate, Photography, Air Conditioning/Refrigeration/Heating, Diesel Mechanics, and Carpentry. These are programs that have an incredibly high success rate compared to other non-vocational programs at LBCC–and programs the trustees axed with little regret.
"If there's anywhere that really needs trade programs – it's Long Beach," Troia says, "It's always been a blue collar town, and the jobs are here."
California's higher-education woes aren't news, but for someone like Troia who sniffs out shady behavior like a mole in the darkness, and has blown the whistle on two of his employers in his 32 years, there was something off about the cuts. The Board of Trustees reported that despite the recent passage of Proposition 30 (which increased income and sales tax ostensibly for education) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program (put into place in 2010 to give $2 billon over the next four years specifically for job training programs, with $500 million allocated toward community colleges), the programs had to be cut. Trustees claimed the school had lost $7.5 million more than they had expected this year, but a memorandum from Vice President Ann-Marie Gabel unearthed by Troia revealed that the number was actually $5 million–this, after she announced "For the first time in six years, there is a projected surplus, albeit small for state standards."
Troia publicly slapped his findings down on the dais of the administration during a Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, and received applause from the crowd after his 20-minute speech. At that same meeting, Troia announced a petition to recall four board members (Doug Otto, Roberto Uranga,Tom Clark, and Jeff Kellogg), lobbied ASB leaders to take a vote of no confidence against the trustees, and demanded that they reconsider the program discontinuance…or else.
Troia carries around a backpack full of hundreds of papers that he has painstakingly looked over and highlighted to peel the trustees apart. He can cite minutiae from LBCC's Academic Senate, their College Planning Committee, and countless district-wide committees that he says the trustees ignored for the efficiency of the chopping block. The student trustee and several other student leaders can't seem to locate the fiscal need to cut the programs and it feels like an erratic move. And Troia is furious that the final decision was made during a closed and private session over winter break.
"It is a clear violation of the Brown Act," Troia alleges. "It's just incredible what they think they can get away with in plain sight."
As Troia made his Brown Act claim during Tuesday's meeting, trustee Otto wouldn't have it. "Do you think the Brown Act applies to the Academic Council?" he shot back.
"It clearly does," Troia replied. The mayoral candidate and prominent lawyer replied only, "Okay," almost as if the Brown Act was news to him, and then surprised everyone–especially his colleague Kellogg, who adamantly supported the discontinuation move–by admitting he was partly disappointed in the whole discontinuation process.
"I personally feel that I've failed in what it is that should have occurred here," he said. "Not the result, but the process." To which Troia concurred.
The trustees acted as if Troia's facts were news to them–Otto, in particular, wondered why Troia had never come to his office to discuss the matter. "They've heard this information from me at least five times, if not eight or nine," Troia says with a laugh. "We submitted a list of questions about all of these things, and they finally responded a week past the deadline."
Troia couldn't stay for the full trustee meeting by design. "I knew they were going to come at me and try to start a public debate, and right now it's just a waste of time," he says. "They know all of this is true and they're just pretending not to."
He laughs again, "All of their arguments are lies." Especially their effort to try and slime him as a Machiavellian operative by publicly reading a letter from the ASB Treasurer purporting that Troia held secret, closed meetings to strategize how to fight the board of trustees.
"We purposefully held our meeting about taking a vote of no confidence in a common area so that everyone who wanted to participate could," Troia exclaims.
Students are becoming increasingly aware of his presence and he has since received a standing ovation on campus and over 40 Facebook friend requests in one day. Only problem? He's leaving LBCC in June to transfer to a four-year university.
Keep your eyes peeled here for what he does next–details to come…
Email: LP Hastings