Morrell, left, and Brown
Morrell, left, and Brown (File photos)
SAN BERNARDINO -- Inland Empire education leaders broached a few possibly controversial topics, such as revising the state's famed Master Plan for High Education, supporting Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to divert some schools funding to disadvantaged districts and raising unit fees at community colleges at a meeting Friday of the Inland Empire Legislative Caucus.

Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, who chairs the caucus, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who represent communities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, focused his first locally held caucus meeting on education.

Area educators focused their remarks on such issues as the need to improve Inland Empire students' readiness for college and the lingering budget problems that continue to challenge school districts, community colleges and public universities.

The meeting took place at Cal State San Bernardino, where university President Tomas Morales was included in the speakers' lineup along with Dale Marsden, superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District, and Gregory Gray, chancellor of the Riverside Community College District.

Along with Morrell, other caucus members at the meeting were Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, and Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside.

Morrell said he and other caucus members will discuss what policy ideas they can agree on and send a letter to the governor with their recommendations. He plans to hold another local caucus meeting on business issues.

"Before we can being to collaborate, we need to communicate," Morrell said.

The governor's budget proposal, subject to revision later this month, would give the California State University system a $125 million funding boost. Morales said in his remarks that the money is welcome at campuses, like the San Bernardino one, that have had to withhold admission to qualified students due to budget shortfalls. But even that extra funding won't be enough to completely reopen the San Bernardino campus' lecture halls to new students, he said.

"We're going to have to reject significant numbers of qualified students," Morales said.

"We have reached a point where we really have to have a new Master Plan," he added.

The state's Master Plan for Higher Education, adopted in 1960, set forth that University of California and California State University students would be asked to pay fees related to their education, but not tuition. Over the past decade, however, rising student fees at both public university systems have made the idea of a tuition-free university something of a fiction.

Also on Friday, Marsden said he supports the governor's plan to divert funding from special programs to districts with high numbers of English-learners and economically disadvantaged students. Although the idea has been criticized as unfair to students in districts that would lose money, Marsden said opponents' position is analogous to an insistence that all emergency room patients receive the same dollar value of treatment.

"I would argue that equality does not necessarily mean 'equal,'" Marsden said. "Not all kids need CPR, but ours do. "

Gray said his community college district cannot afford over the long-term to provide popular but expensive courses at a price of $46 per unit. Dental hygienists' classes, he said, cost the district about $540 per unit to teach.

Gray also said districts should be able to charge higher rates for expensive programs that can directly lead to employment.