Daily Clips

Compton College and El Camino reach joint-operation pact

Daily Breeze 1/25/07

After three meetings of debate and indecision, the trustees of El Camino College have approved a five-year deal to run Compton College.

Working together since August under a temporary deal set to expire this summer, the two schools are now bound by the agreement struck Monday, the first session of 2007, until June 30, 2011, unless one decides to walk. The agreement includes an out-clause.

El Camino will receive an additional $2 million in annual funding for operating the now-named Compton College Center.

"They needed that vote. They really did," Royce Esters, president of the Compton-based National Association For Equal Justice in America, said after the meeting. Paraphrasing one of several speakers who addressed trustees before their vote, he added, "It's like El Camino is part of the family saying, 'You can stay with us until you get on your feet.' "

Stripped of its accreditation for various money and management problems, the 80-year-old Compton College faced closure without a partner institution to nurse it back to independence.

The school's scandal-dogged board was replaced by a state-appointed special trustee. And in June legislation was enacted to give the school a $30 million loan to stay open as an arm of an accredited college. Santa Monica College ran Compton over the summer, but El Camino was the only institution that bid to do so long-term.

Giving the partnership an extended green light did not come easy for the El Camino board, frequently fractured by trustees' varied opinions and arguments over a draft proposal since fall.

Their primary concern about getting into a deal with Compton centered on how to get out. Trustees sought an exit clause providing for an easy divorce, should either half of the collegiate coupling want one.

In her ongoing concern over that clause, Trustee Maureen O'Donnell, the lone "no" vote in a 4-1 approval, argued repeatedly that its language leaves a loophole that could require El Camino to find its own replacement before being released from responsibility to Compton. She reiterated her position by phone Monday -- home ill, she participated by conference call -- saying that only legislation dictating specifics of the deal can truly safeguard the school.

No such legislation has been proposed.

The agreement approved Monday was revised to explicitly allow El Camino an "irrevocable" waiver from such an obligation. Either party can walk away -- no strings attached -- with six months' notice.

"Is it perfect? No. It is a human endeavor," board president William Beverly said. "It is a partnership of people and we will do everything we can to make it work."

Thomas Henry, the state-appointed special trustee to Compton, heralded the arrangement as "something that's never been done before."

"It's important that we get this right," he said, "and that we get it right now."

Marie Hollis concurred, expressing concern over how the deal will proceed. Hollis, president of the group Concerned Citizens of Compton, told trustees she fears El Camino's goal is to "eliminate the identity of Compton College in its entirety, rather than facilitate progress" toward the embattled school's aspirations of re-accreditation.

"We would like to see some evidence in your actions, rather than your words, that you are committed" to helping Compton regain autonomy, Hollis said.

But she also expressed optimism about the prospects of "a true partnership," as did all of the some 20 Compton supporters who attended Monday's meeting -- students and staff plus local residents and the city's mayor, Eric Perrodin.

"I appreciate what you're doing because the alternative would be Compton College closing down," Perrodin told trustees.

One speaker, describing herself as "a product of Compton College," urged trustees to help the school recuperate from scandal.

"We want our college, we need our college," Mary Edwards said. "But we need time to get on our feet. We don't want to see the baby go out with the bath water."