Norma L. Hernandez
Governing Board President
Friends of Southwestern College,
For more than 50 years, the Southwestern Community College District has been an instrument of the people and a recipient of the public’s trust.
In 1960, the people of the South County created the College District to help their children, their neighbors and themselves learn and succeed. That bond is reinforced every time the people go to the polls to choose their trustees on the Governing Board, to choose who will oversee their community’s education and who will spend the community’s hard-earned dollars.
In November 2000, that connection remained strong enough for the people to entrust the District with 89 million dollars from Proposition AA designated for the repair, rehabilitation and modernization of the college. In the years that followed, residents around the South County could see their support take form as the District built the Higher Education Centers in National City and Otay Mesa, the Child Development Center, the Student Services Center, and the Learning Resource Center/Library, among other projects.
The people put their faith in the district again in 2008 by approving Proposition R and its far-reaching $389 million building plan. The District’s bold vision includes many renovations, new higher education centers and a Corner Lot development of administrative, educational and community-oriented buildings. After the passage of Prop R, an architectural firm completed designs, a firm was hired to manage the plan and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 2010.
But questions about the process by which those contracts were awarded were brought to the attention of the Governing Board soon after the South County elected new trustees. In April 2011, the board directed the college’s legal counsel to hire an independent forensic auditor to investigate certain construction contracts and use of Southwestern College Educational Foundation funds. (A report of that auditor’s findings, now expected early in February, will be shared with the District Attorney and released to the public.)
Over Winter Break we learned of searches conducted by the District Attorney on the homes of two former college administrators as well as officials with a neighboring school district. Soon thereafter, five people were indicted in connection with that district’s past business relationships.
The revelations that came out of these legal proceedings reinforced and crystallized the Governing Board’s concerns. Over the past month we have directed our staff to suspend, and then sever, the College District’s contracts with the program manager for the Proposition R projects — Seville Construction Services, Inc. — and the firm which designed the Corner Lot development — BCA Architecture Inc. This halted progress on the Corner Lot, but has not hindered other campus projects, such as the renovation of DeVore Stadium, the construction of the new field house and the resurfacing of our athletic fields. And it has not affected our core mission of serving our students and elevating our community. Nothing that has happened will affect our strong academics and award-winning programs.
You will likely see Southwestern College in the news again in the weeks and months ahead as the DA’s investigation continues and runs its course. We will work with investigators in any way we are asked to until this chapter of our history is behind us. In the meantime, our talented faculty and dedicated staff are free to continue to do what they do so well, educating our community’s college students and building a better future for our region.
How to proceed with the Corner Lot project is a question the Board will address in coming weeks, in consultation with our legal counsel, district staff and other advisors. Ultimately, decisions will be made transparently and ethically, following new district policies and procedures adopted over the past year, and with the interests of the South County community in mind.
Norma L. Hernandez