Last week, 15 of Merced College's top administrators left the city's hothouse heat for a two-and-half-day-long staff workshop at the Ironstone Winery in Murphys.
A week or so earlier, eight of the college's deans in the instruction department spent two days at the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The total cost for both trips, which includes room, board, food, a conference room, transportation and a facilitator for the conference at the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino:
Money spent on both trips came from the college's general fund, according to Merced College president Ben Duran.
Duran led last week's trip to Murphys as a way to discuss certain critical topics, such as student success, without interruptions, he said.
"We go to the retreat because if we try to hold the in-depth discussions on campus that we do at a retreat, there are too many distractions because staff come to us with questions and issues and participating administrators tend to drift off to their offices to take care of 'critical things,'" Duran said in an e-mail to the Sun-Star. "In other words, I need their undivided attention for the entire time. Also, it gives us an opportunity for team-building that is tough to do during the year because we are all drawn in too many different directions."
Marianne Tortorici, Merced College's vice president of instruction, said that because of state budget cuts to education, most travel by college faculty and administration has been eliminated from Merced College's budget, except that which is deemed critical.
"It's critical for me to take my staff away," Duran said. "We go over the priorities and goals for the rest of the year."
According to Mazie Brewington, Merced College's vice president of administrative services, the trip was extremely worthwhile. "For me, having to reflect on issues of student success was very valuable," she said.
Topics discussed included improving student transfer rates, helping students get prepared for the work world and enhancing the college's support services, Brewington added.
Totoricci helped coordinate the conference at the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino and she said the purpose was to discuss instructional goals.
She said the college hired a facilitator for the workshop to keep the group on track and to set realistic goals for the year, she said.
While there may be value in such staff workshops, the question remains whether they're necessary in such trying economic times, especially when funded with taxpayer money.
Keith Law, Merced College faculty association president, said he wondered why administrators couldn't just have the retreat at Merced College in one of the school's facilities.
"They may have gotten a wonderful deal, and it's a great idea to get people together, but it sends the wrong message during this economic climate," he said.
Administrators could have gone into a classroom and turned off their cell phones, he added.
Over the past two years, 61 sections have been cut from the college's course offerings, Law added. Most of the classes cut were taught by adjunct (part-time) professors.
The average salary for an adjunct is about $11,000 for teaching 12 units a semester, Law said. The average salary is $45 an hour.
That money, according to Law, could have been used to save one of those classes.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.