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FRC renews future educator contract with Butte

Feather River College is in the process of renewing its contract with Butte County Office of Education for the Future Educators (formerly Mini Corps) Program. The current 10-year contract is set to expire June 30, 2020.

The program trains future teachers, many from low income and immigrant backgrounds, to tutor school children, with the goal that these children will graduate from high school and become teachers themselves. According to FRC President Kevin Trutna, the Future Educators students come to the program with a desire to “change the world,” for the better.

At a recent board meeting, trustee Trent Saxton brought up a potential discrepancy in program finances. When asked for further explanation, Saxton said that FRC believes BCOE owes the college $500,000, and BCOE, in turn, thinks FRC owes them close to a million dollars.

He shared a document from the executive director of Fiscal Services at BCOE, Lisa Anderson, that shows a “balance owed by Feather River Community College” of $928,324.20.

Trutna provided this statement to Feather Publishing: “FRC and BCOE are currently in contract negotiations since the current agreement will expire on June 30, 2020. It is improper for anyone from FRC to interfere with an active contract negotiation, as I have been directed by board leadership to proceed with negotiations for the continuance of the Future Educators Program. This important program trains future teachers through FRC classes taught by FRC approved instructors and reaches a statewide audience. It has been a positive collaboration between FRC and BCOE for over 25 years.”

Trutna also provided this newspaper requested evidence of an additional $2,068,000 in payments. “This is over $2 million in verified payments that I have not seen reflected in the document [from BCOE’s executive director of fiscal services] you referenced,” said Trutna.

The money that BCOE potentially owes FRC is a bit more complicated. According to Trutna, it is the result of student application errors that resulted in students getting automatically rejected from the Promise Grant Program and bumped to out-of-state status.

These students expected that state grant funding would pay for their FRC coursework. When the grant didn’t come through due to paperwork errors, FRC didn’t get paid. In addition, the out-of-state designation made it look like the college was owed much more, since out-of-state fees are approximately four times that of in state.

Moreover, when students come on campus, said Trutna, a financial aid officer goes through all the registration paperwork with them. Without that oversight, errors are much more likely.

Trutna said they’ve identified the most common reasons for these errors and are correcting as many applications as they can, which allows FRC to collect fees retroactively for these students. Also, they’re making sure these errors will not occur in the future.

The errors, and corresponding losses, mean that FRC has recorded approximately $500,000 in revenue over the past three years that it hasn’t collected.

How they determine what BCOE will pay FRC on this debt is yet to be decided. Whatever they don’t collect, after as many applications as possible have been corrected, will be recorded as a loss.

Trutna noted that he and BCOE Superintendent Mary Sakuma have agreed they want to complete their contract negotiations for what both of them agree is a positive collaboration prior to discussing any financial variance. In fact, this partnership between the college and BCOE was first negotiated by former FRC faculty member Joseph Munoz back in the 1990s.

FRC pays BCOE $1,800 per FTES (full time equivalent student) to administer the Future Educators Program, which includes record keeping, recruiting and overseeing the teacher/tutor training. The state has many programs like this one, said Trutna, with colleges and other state entities applying to oversee them.

Because the students are enrolled in the courses through FRC, the college receives $5,400 per FTES from the state.

Last year, there were approximately 600 students enrolled in the program statewide. This year, there are 450.

FRC makes approximately $3 – $4 million a year from the program, which is a significant boost to its bottom line. And, it’s a program that the college believes in, stressed Trutna.

FRC, like many other community colleges, has diversified over the years to stay viable. The college’s several online and/or off campus programs allows it to draw from a much larger pool of students.

Essentially, these money-generating programs allow local students to walk onto campus and take the courses they need, either to prepare them for a career or as a step towards a four-year degree.

FRC offers other such programs, including those with the forest service, Chester chorus, swift water rescue and online versions of more traditional course offerings. These courses not only offer a financial boost, they widen the offerings for on campus students, as well.

Finally, they also serve as a recruiting tool. Trutna noted that the former mayor of Gridley, who started out in the mini corps program, ended up graduating from FRC.

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