ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE

ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE OFF PROBATION, HAS ACCREDITATION CONFIRMED

 

By Lev D. Zilbermints


Essex County College (ECC) has been taken off probation by its accrediting agency, Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The decision, published on the agency’s website, allows ECC to retain its accreditation until 2022 - 2023.


According to msche.org, MSCHE decided to remove probation “because the institution is in compliance with Standard 3 (Institutional Resources) and Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance). MSCHE made the decision to remove probation on June 21, but did not publish it until July 2.


The removal of probation is a victory for ECC, which has gone through two years of confusion between 2016 - 2018. At first, MSCHE placed the school on “warning” status in November 2016, citing per msche.org, “insufficient evidence of the college’s compliance with Standard 3 (Institutional Resources) and Standard 4 (Leadership and Governance).


In 2017, ECC was in the public eye, as allegations of mismanagement flew back and forth between then - Vice President for Finance and Administration Joyce Wilson Harley and the new president, Dr. Anthony Munroe. Dozens of employees were laid off in order to close the budget gap facing the school.


A new Chief Financial Officer was not named until October. Meanwhile, Joyce Wilson Harley was suspended with pay at a noisy public Board of Trustees meeting, held September 19, 2017. Pastors of churches and ECC faculty held two press conferences in August - September 2017 demanding the firing of Harley and the resignation of the Board of Trustees.


All this led to MSCHE putting the school on probation in November 2017. From that point on, ECC had one year remaining in which to make changes that would conform to MSCHE standards.


The college took specific steps to conform to MSCHE standards. These included hiring a compliance officer; installing a new chief financial officer; a new deputy financial officer; changing the composition of the board of trustees; passing new rules for the board to follow; and putting forth a multi-year plan to straighten out the school finances.


According to essex.edu, a team from MSCHE visited ECC in March 2018. Team members interviewed 32 administrators, faculty, staff and trustees, the college website said.


In remarks published on the college website, ECC President Anthony Munroe thanked the entire ECC community for making a joint effort to remove ECC from probation status.


“I want to thank the students that entrusted us with their education,” said ECC President Anthony E. Munroe. “Never was the quality of the education provided at ECC called into question. I am appreciative of our dedicated faculty and staff for working tirelessly in fulfilling our mission. And, I thank the Board of Trustees for believing in and supporting my leadership of Essex County College at such a time as this. This is fantastic news and I am extremely pleased with the Commission’s vote.”


Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo wrote in a Monday Facebook post, “Essex County College is a landmark institution that has provided generations of students with a strong educational foundation that has helped them embark on successful careers. Getting accreditation restored has been a team effort, with President Dr. Anthony Munroe, the Board of Trustees and the college’s faculty and staff, along with my administration and the Board of Freeholders, sharing the same goal for the college. Some difficult decisions, such as the county increasing our annual contribution to the school’s operating budget, were made to stabilize the college during this challenging time. It’s important that we all remain vigilant and continue moving the school forward so ECC continues to operate and be looked upon as a beacon of hope for its students.”


According to essex.edu, the Essex County College Board of Trustees expressed satisfaction with the ECC community for getting the school off probation.


“We all know how critical this has been for the future of our institution,” said College Board of Trustees Chair Thomas C. McDermott, Jr. “Speaking for the entire Board, I commend Dr. Munroe, the College administration, faculty and staff have all done an outstanding job in leading us to this point.”


Essex County College remained fully accredited throughout both the warning and probation stages. Administrators noted that MSCHE found no fault with the school’s academic standing.


ECC has campuses in Newark, West Caldwell and Cedar Grove. There are about 9000 students attending ECC. The school will celebrate its 50th graduation next year. 

ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE DECLARES FISCAL EXIGENCY

By Lev D. Zilbermints


NEWARK - The Essex County College Board of Trustees announced a Fiscal Exigency Plan, terminating up to 34 positions, at its Feb. 27 meeting here on the Main Campus.


Essex County College is trying to plus a $3.0 million deficit in Fiscal Year 2018.


“The primary immediate goals of the Fiscal Exigency Plan,” according to its document distributed at that Tuesday afternoon meeting, “are to balance the budget within the next three years, begin replenishment of the fund balance and allow for better cash flow.”


Part of the plan includes 10 different measures, including; reorganizing/reassigning college personnel to reduce functional and operational redundancies, streamline personnel-related costs, and support potential growth areas. A hiring freeze is in place for non-critical positions. Increasing enrollment hours, reducing non-salary operating expenses, modifying and/or discontinuing some ECC programs in order to more efficiently and effectively allocate resources; selling of selected College assets are also among the steps proposed by the plan.


According to Board Resolution 4-10/2-2018, at least 20 employees have been given separation notices. The positions run the gamut from lecturers and instructors to Vice President of Administration and Finance. Among these being laid off are: the Director of Media Production and Technology; Director of Corporate Training; Associate Director of the Public Safety Academy in Cedar Grove; Director of Evening and Weekend Services; Director of Fiscal Operations and Coordinator of Continuing Education.


Among these being let go is Joyce Harley, Vice President of Administration and Finance. Harley, of West Orange, was suspended with pay Sept. 19, 2017 by the trustees, pending a forensic audit of college finances. Her separation from college becomes effective June 1, 2018, ending her $205,000 annual salary.


Two Nursing instructors, one Humanities instructor, one Business instructor, two assistant Social Science professors and one assistant professor each in Business and Biology are among these laid off. Four lecturers, including two in Education Opportunity Fund, - one at its West Essex Campus in West Caldwell and one here at its Main campus - are also being let go.


The effective dates of separation vary. Seven employees have until June 1; the rest have Sept. 1.


Another 14 vacant positions are “to be closed immediately”, according to the Fiscal Exigency Plan. These positions include assistant registrar, two student service representatives, record clerk, administrative assistants, Associate Director of College Advancement, and the Dean of Academic Affairs.


Speaking at the meeting, BOT Chairman Thomas C. McDermott said, “As stressful as it is for you, we really have no choice.” If the school were to survive, layoffs proposed in the Fiscal Exigency Plan were unavoidable.


The Board unanimously passed a resolution approving the elimination of 20 positions and 14 vacant positions.


Opposition to the Fiscal Exigency Plan - also known as the Financial Stability Plan - came from staff, students, faculty and alumni.


Khadijah Scriven, Class of 2003 alumnus, urged pay cuts for those making six-figure salaries.

ECC OBSERVER MEMBERS INDUCTION

NEWARK - On February 23, 2018, Essex County College restarted its process to publish a newspaper, the Observer, to be run for the benefit of the students. About 15 students got inducted to serve as a member of the newspaper board.

About five years ago, the newspaper stopped publishing. Now, under the leadership of Joshua Allasan as Editor-in-chief, the ECC Observer will be published two times this semester.

Guest speaker, Local Talk Editor-in-chief Dhiren Shah, spoke about the importance of journalism. He said that journalism may not be paying a lot of money, but it’s fun, as long as you do it the right way, enjoy yourself and you have a passion for it.

Shah said, “Every journalist needs strong principles in journalism. Nowadays, fast news works differently. Fox News favors the Republican Party and CNN and MSNBC supports the Democratic Party. That is not good journalism. Good journalism is that we are a mirror, we do not have to make up your own mind and tweak it according to our needs. We must go by what is the truth. So, the truth is a very important principle.

“The second principle is independence, I have to ask the questions with an independent view of my own. It is not our duty to make the answers, but let them answer. The third thing is that you should be impartial. The fourth thing is you have to be a human being. If I were to take photos of a victim dying, and publicize it, I am hurting the family and friends of the victim, so I have to be human and not harm the innocent. And, the fifth thing is being honest to yourself.

ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE APPROVES $60 MILLION BUDGET

Budget does not raise tuition


By Lev D. Zilbermints


At a Feb. 9 meeting of the Board of School Estimates (BOSE), Essex County College (ECC) approved a $60.01 million budget for the upcoming school year. Also, for the first time since 2015, the college has not raised tuition and fees. This was done partly to increase enrollment, which has decreased from about 9400 students in 2016 to 8997 students in 2017.


The BOSE is made of Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., chairman; ECC Board of Trustees Chair Thomas McDermott Jr., Trustee Rev. Dr. Lanel Guyton, and Essex County Freeholders Lebby Jones and Leonard Luciano.


According to the Board of School Estimate Meeting Materials packet, the operating budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 is $60,014,693. Of this amount, $46,314,693 is aid provided from the State and other sources. The County of Essex provides $13,700,000. According to a BOSE resolution, the budget for capital expenses is $7,200,000. Of this amount, $3,600,000 is provided by the State and other revenue. The other $3,600,000 is provided by Essex County.


A proviso in the resolution states “that if the State is unable to provide the matching funds, the College shall use the County matching funds for minor capital renovation and renewal projects for fiscal year 2019.”


ECC President Anthony E. Munroe said, “We are presenting a well thought out, balanced budget that begins to address the structural issues that has plagued our College for years. This budget also sends a clear message to Middle States [Commission on Higher Education] that we are holding ourselves accountable.”


According to President Munroe, February 9 is the earliest the budget has been put together in many years. The college head also said that tuition and student fees will not be raised in the 2018-2019 school year.


Thomas McDermott, Chair of ECC Board of Trustees, said, “we are trying to stay ahead of schedule and will only get better in the future.”


This is the first time since 2014 that tuition was not raised. According to data presented at the February 6 college-wide meeting, in the years 2009 - 2012 the college had surpluses between $3.9 million and $8.8 million. Between 2010 - 2015, tuition was not raised. This led to a deficit for several years straight. Data shows that in 2013, the deficit was $1.3 million; in 2014, $5.2 million; in 2015, $400,000; in 2016, $3.0 million; in 2017, $600,000; in 2018, a projected $3.0 million.


ECC serves a population that is overwhelmingly black and Latino. Most of the 8997 students receive some form of financial aid.  Graduation rate is about 10%, with many students transferring to four-year schools like Rutgers University, Bloomfield College, Princeton, Stockton, Montclair State University, Columbia, and other schools. Graduation rate for ECC in 2014 was 7.8% compare to Morris County College 24.6%, Hudson County Community College 8.8%, Union County College 8.3%.


Compared to fiscal year 2017-2018, the college is slightly less dependent on tuition and fees for revenue. In FY 2018, the school received $35,865,000 or 58.88% in tuition and fees. FY 2019 numbers show $33,464,693 or 55.76% in tuition and fees. The gap is offset by an increase of funds from Essex County. In FY 2018 the county gave 12,450,000 or 20.44%, to ECC. In FY 2019, the county increased its share to $13,700,000 or 22.83% of total revenue. Meanwhile, the State of New Jersey decreased its share from $11,600,000 or 19.04% to $10,800,000 or 18% of total revenue. The remaining balance came from investment income, other income and fund balance.


In FY 2019 investment balance amounted to $50,000 compared to zero the previous year. Other income increased from $1,000,000 in FY 2018 to $1,500,000 in FY 2019. Fund balance in FY 2019 was $500, 000 compared to none the previous year.


Comparatively speaking, fiscal year budget trends have decreased between FY 2015 - FY 2019. In 2015, the college budget was $66.81 million; in 2016, $69.10 million. By 2017, the budget decreased to $65.03 million; by 2018, to $60.92 million.


At the February 6 college-wide meeting, held in Smith Hall, college leaders stressed the need for increasing enrollment to increase revenue. Presently, the college enrollment totals $198,647.5 billable credit hours for FY 2018. This is a continuing decrease from 206,857.5 billable credit hours in in FY 2017; 231,392 in FY 2016; and 247,736 in FY 2015.


According to the data presented on Feb. 6, enrollment has decreased 20% over the past four years.


The school’s breakdown of personnel expenses, defined as salaries and benefits, amount to a staggering total of 86%. Salaries amount to 67% while benefits amount to 19%. Fixed costs and other amount to 7% each of the college budget. President Munroe said that operating costs must decrease. Short of increasing enrollment, it was not immediately clear how this would be achieved.


The college intends to aggressively push for an increase in enrollment. It has designated “instant admit dates” once per week on February 6, 13, 20. On these days, new students can go through the enrollment process quickly and be ready to attend school during Summer I or Fall 2018 semesters.


Student Services received $4,366,233 in FY 2019 as compared to $4,455,340 in FY 2018. The percentage of total revenue went down from 7.31% to 7.28%. However, FY 2018 budget was $60,915,000 so there was more money. The FY 2019 budget is $60,014,693.

ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE FIGHTING NUMEROUS LAWSUITS

By Walter Elliott and Lev D. Zilbermints   


NEWARK - The current Essex County College Board of Trustees will do more than give their effort to extricate the school from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education's accreditation probation status on their agenda when they meet here at Smith Hall 4;30 p.m. Dec. 19.


Although its December agenda has not been posted as of Dec. 6, "Local Talk" can bet that at least one legal firm contract for their approval for "General Counsel" will be presented in the document's financial segment.


ECC's trustees approved 51 legal services invoices and/or contracts, worth $763,474.71, for 16 outside firms Nov. 21-Aug. 8, 2016. The average service invoice or contract, over those 17 meetings or months, comes out to $14,970.09.


The almost $764,000, when factoring in five contracts that had no price attached to them, makes The Faith Leaders of Essex County/North Jersey Community of Black Churchmen's Labor Day claim that that the school has paid $1.1 million in legal fees and contracts more than plausible.


That plausibility still stands when one deducts the trustees' July 20-Nov. 21 meetings. Dropping those five months aligns figures to ECC's July 1-June 30 school year budget. The likely $1 million in legal fees comes out to roughly eight percent of the college's 2016-17 $12.95 million budget.


With more than a dozen lawsuits filed by current and former employees and students, however, ECC has an apparent need to spend for outside lawyers. While some suits have been dismissed or settled, others remain pending. The expense is one of the reasons while the Middle States Commission put the school on probation last month.


Gale Gibson-Gayle and Rasheedah Hasan, the school's former president and general counsel, have filed the single largest lawsuits. They are suing ECC and the trustees $5 million each for a combined $10 million.


Gibson-Gayle and Hasan allege improper firing, breach of contract, discrimination, defamation and damage to their reputation. They, through their lawyers, said their terminations came after they wrote a report to the trustees exposing unlawful use of college finances by ECC employees.


The trustees suspended Gibson-Gayle, while out of the country, and Hasan March 25, 2016 and fired them April 20, 2016.


A credible source told "Local Talk" that ECC has spent over $25,000 fighting their lawsuits.


Other former ECC staffers who were later fired - and have filed suits in response - are former assistant general counsel Renata Wooden, general counsel administrative assistant Shannon Higgins, Gibson-Gayle executive assistant Nakeha Davis, acting director of human resource operations Juliette Cherrington and former vice president of planning, research and assessment Douglas Walcerz.


Law 360, of New York, reported that Gibson-Gayle sued ECC, claiming that she and Hasan were retaliated against because of their report. Gibson-Gayle filed suit in New Jersey Superior Court-Newark April 20; Walcerz June 29.


Cedric Ashley, Esq., said Law 360, represents Walcerz, Wooden, Higgins, Davis and Cherrington in their separate suits.


"Dr. Walcerz and my other clients," said Ashley July 10, were former employees who worked hard for the betterment of the college. We believe the facts will show that their terminations were retaliatory and illegal."


James M. Burns of Newark's Genova Burns, LLC, representing the school, declined commenting to Law 360.


Current ECC employees are also suing the school. Former executive dean and social sciences professor Susan Mulligan, West Essex Campus Prof. Felix Linfante, librarian Prof. Stephen Keister and outgoing Dean of Business/business professor Carlos Rivera have pending lawsuits. There is a pending lawsuit, Mbu vs. ECC over alleged violation of employment rights, filed Oct. 17 and pending.


The Estate of Ernesto Awad III has sued the school for reportedly back wages.


Many of those suing ECC, apart from confirming the bare fact of their lawsuit, refused to comment. One suit, Kevin Ford vs. ECC, was dismissed last year. The status of Matos vs. ECC, Barger vs. ECC and Wilson vs. ECC are not immediately clear.


ECC's Police Academy is also being sued.


Keith Martinez has sued ECCPA, his former boss at the academy, the college and the Hudson County Sheriff's Office. He claims employment discrimination and seeks back wages.


The disposition of Ricardo vs. ECCPA, from 2007, was not immediately available and status unclear.


Many former employees state in court papers that the currently suspended vice president of finance and administration, Joyce Wilson Harley, of West Orange, was a big factor in filing suit.


Former ECC purchasing director Marylyn Rutherford filed a whistleblower suit, alleging a hostile work environment. The reason, in Law 360, was that Rutherford had accused the school of skirting invoicing and contracting rules. She filed in state court July 6.


Rutherford, in her complaint, claims that Harley submitted a proposal to the Board of Trustees without proper authorization of the purchasing department or legal counsel review. The $500,000 contract involved Ricoh, a digital business service company.


The trustees, according to their Nov. 21 agenda, spent a total of $58,037.62 between February and August 2017 to three legal firms to fight at least 11 lawsuits.


ECC paid $1,332.25 to Roseland firm Lum, Drasco & Positan, LLC. $1,050 of that was paid Feb. 28 defending against Linfante, Mulligan and Keister. Another respective $117.25 and $165 were paid May 31 and July 31 against Keister and Ladylease White.


The college paid a total $9,105.75 last May-August to Atlantic City's Cooper Levenson PC against Martinez's suit. Another $180 was spent to contest Rutherford's suit.


An Oct. 21 request for board action included paying $47,419.62 to Genova Burns to handle seven cases.


That total broke down to: $9,707.60 against Charrington's case; $7,610.21 on Walcerz's case; $6,626.62 on N. Davis' case; $6,547.08 on Wooden; $6,245.61 on Higgins; $8,775 on former instructor (and "Local Talk" contributor) Lisa Durden's case and $1,907.50 on Gibson-Gayle/ Hasan's counterclaim.


It should be noted that ECC, like other public entities, have the option to seek outside counsel for special services.


The City of Orange Township's Council, for example, recently approved a roster of attorneys and legal firms that have passed their non-conflict-of-interest criteria. That roster is to be used when the city needs specialized outside attorneys.


It is not known whether ECC has a similar "standby" attorneys' roster.


Public organizations may also hire outside counsel should their own attorney or law department faces a high volume of litigation.  

ESSEX COUNTY COLLEGE PUT ON PROBATION

NEWARK - After long standing conflicts with staff, students, and even clergy, Essex County College (ECC) has officially been put on notice.  


At a Nov. 16 meeting, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) has formally placed Essex County College on probation for one year. The Commission’s main concern was noncompliance with standards on Institutional Resources and Leadership and Governance.


The Mid-Atlantic Region Commission on Higher Education, doing business as MSCHE, is the authority recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education to conduct accreditation and pre-accreditation (candidacy status) activities for institutions of higher education in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  


Basically, MSCHE determines if the degrees handed out at institutions under its umbrella are worth anything. If the Commission strips accreditation from an institution, then for all intents and purposes that institution becomes worthless.


Members of the ECC student body, alumni, staff, and community clergy members have called for massive changes to the Board of Trustees at the college, citing the Board’s ineptitude in overseeing operations at the college.


ECC has one year to get its house in order. Otherwise, a degree there won’t be worth the paper it is printed on.


Below is a handout presented to “Local Talk” about the action taken by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in regard to Essex County College on Nov. 16, 2017:


“To accept the monitoring report and to note the visit by the Commission's representatives. To note that the institution is now in compliance with Standard 8 (Student Admissions and Retention).  


“To place the institution on probation because of insufficient evidence that the institution is currently in compliance with Standard 3 {Institutional Resources} and Standard 4 {Leadership and Governance}.  


“To note that the institution remains accredited while on probation. To note further that federal regulations limit the period during which an institution may be in non-compliance to two years.


“To request a monitoring report, due March 1, 2018, documenting evidence that the institution has achieved and can sustain compliance with Standard 3 and Standard 4, including but not limited to evidence of the development and implementation of:  


“(1) a financial planning and budgeting process aligned with the institution's mission, goals and plan that provides for an annual budget and multi-year budget projections, both institution-wide and among departments; utilizes planning and assessment documents; address resource acquisition and allocation for the institution.  


“(2) adequate institutional controls to deal with financial, administrative and auxiliary operations, and rational and consistent policies and procedures in place to determine allocation of assets.  


“(3) an annual independent audit confirming financial responsibility, with evidence of follow-up on any concerns cited in the audit's accompanying management letter.  


"(4) the analysis and improvement of financial practices (Standard 3) and written governing documents, such as a constitution, by-laws, enabling legislation, charter or other similar documents that: delineate the governance structure and provide for collegial governance, and the structure's composition, duties and responsibilities; assign authority and accountability for policy development and decision making including a process for the involvement of appropriate institutional constituencies in policy development and decision making, provide the selection process for governing body members.


“And (5) periodic assessment of the effectiveness of the institutional leadership and governance (Standard 4). A small team visit will follow submission of the monitoring report. To direct a prompt Commission liaison guidance visit to discuss the Commission's expectations.


To remind the institution of its obligation to inform the Commission about any and all significant developments related to any investigation{s) conducted by state, federal, or other agencies. Copies of the report{s) that follow from any of these investigations must be submitted to the Commission within 10 business days of their completion. Upon reaffirmation of accreditation, the next evaluation visit is scheduled for 2022 - 2023.”


Please see msche.org for further information.