Plaza de Armas wrote another article about Zarate’s travel expenses. Apparently he’s a real bargain! And the Bellwether Award is not exactly the Oscars. It was a self-nominated consolation prize after NVC didn’t win the Baldrige Award. Those 25 cost cutting strategies honored by the Bellwether included eliminating faculty status for librarians – one of our top advocacy issues which was an ideological decision, not a fiscal one. It was also made without consulting any library faculty, directors, or deans, or with any regard as to the potential academic impact on students. All five faculty senates passed resolutions opposing this move and even one Vice Chancellor remarked that “Librarians were not represented very well.” So much for collaboration!
Also of note is the fact that travel is restricted at the colleges. Not all faculty get to have their way paid if they’re invited or even presenting at a conference. So why should Trustees automatically get “unrestricted” oks to travel as Zarate suggests?
Zarate, bargain advocate
Roberto Zarate, well-traveled trustee of San Antonio’s Alamo Community Colleges, called us back after our story about his expenses ran earlier this week. His regular travel on behalf of the public open-enrollment district is automatically green-lighted by the board of trustees’ generous travel and reimbursement policy. But, said Zarate, he actually saves the district money, because he now performs functions that were once farmed out to lobbyists – an annual savings he calculates at approximately $15,000. Zarate, by contrast, spent somewhere north of $6,000 last year on trips to Washington, D.C. and Charleston, S.C., for national higher-ed policy groups such as the Association of Community College Trustees.
“So with the cutbacks, anyone could be an advocate,” he said. Fortunately, he added, he’s retired, which makes it easier for him to travel on district business. A perk – he has two sons and “beautiful grandbabies” in Austin.
Zarate also echoed the comments of Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie, saying the board is much more active in policy thanks to trustees’ involvement outside of the regular meeting schedule. Zarate, in particular, has represented the districts’ interests on appointed commissions in Austin.
Before Zarate joined the board in 2004, “One of the things the board was known for was non-participation,” he said. “In terms of going to the Legislature, trustees had never gone before.”
Zarate’s national mingling inspired him to co-found a state trustees’ organization in 2007, which, he acknowledged, has meant “more travel and more meetings.”
He says the board is very conscious of expenses at a time when staff and teaching salaries and cuts in education funding are hot topics. And he no longer collects reimbursement from the district for local travel. Nonetheless, he wouldn’t change the current policy, which allows any and all trustees to travel to any or all of nine annual meetings and events.
“If a trustee can go, they can go,” he said. “We don’t want to restrict anybody.”
That philosophy led to the board’s well-attended trip to Florida in January, where it won an award in the category of Planning, Governance & Finance. Tab for the board: close to $10,000.
“It was kind of like winning the Oscars,” Zarate said. And the conference website got it wrong, he added. when it listed only three team members – Leslie, a vice chancellor, and board member Gareth Beitzel – for the presentation. “The reason so many trustees went is we were all asked to be part of the presentation.”