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In a sharp blow to the District’s not-even-three-year-old community college, its chief executive—-Dr. Jonathan Gueverra—-is leaving for another one.

The Florida Keys Community College announced yesterday that Gueverra would become its sixth president. And it appears as though he’s been contemplating the move for some time: The choice came “after months of sifting through dozens of candidates through extensive reviews, online interviews, town hall forums, and ultimately formal interviews,” the release says.

It wasn’t a secret that Gueverra was looking for other jobs. The Florida Keys school announced its finalists, and Gueverra also made the final round for a college near New Orleans. But UDC’s administration didn’t find out that he’d taken a new position until Florida broke the news, and spokesman Alan Etter doesn’t have a name for an interim leader.

That’s not good news for an institution that’s still very much finding its feet. The school hasn’t even achieved separate accreditation yet, and a lot about how it will be run remains to be determined. Steady leadership would’ve helped with that process, and Gueverra was widely respected in the city.

I’ve not heard back yet from Gueverra himself about his reasons for leaving, but I can think of a couple: His frosty relations with Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia, are well known. The two were pitted in competition for both resources and enrollment: UDC birthed the community college with no extra money from the city, bringing its cash reserves for fiscal year 2013 to the brink of default. The two-year institution now boasts more students than the four-year flagship, which is at the lowest ebb in its 38-year history, at 2,129 students in fall 2011. The community college’s workforce programs, seen as the solution to D.C.’s unemployment, were also more popular with funding agencies: The community college brought in $7.4 million in grants and awards in fiscal year 2011, millions more than the next highest grossing school.*

Gueverra was also starting to get impatient with how slowly the city was moving in transitioning the community college to independence. “As I have pointed out to leaders in this city time and time again, if you go to the College of Western Idaho, which was launched a year before us, that is now a fully independent institution,” he told me a couple weeks ago.

Finally, Gueverra was frustrated with the city’s unwillingness to fund the community college at the level it needs to really establish itself, which wasn’t what he bargained for. “Walking in, I was told that the funding was there to do this. Hearing something and seeing it is two different things,” he said. “If we’re going to place blame, we have to put it on the leaders of our city, because if you want something, you have to be able to put money behind it…if we get no money, we can’t possibly continue.”

This year, the mayor’s budget gave the community college a few million more dollars, but that’s not nearly enough to do things like start new programs that Gueverra wanted, like dental hygiene and surgical technology. Good luck to whomever takes this one on next.


UPDATE, May 1, 9:35 p.m. – A few more facts on Gueverra’s departure: The new job starts on July 1. It won’t pay much more than the $178,000 he makes now; FKCC’s salary is “not to exceed $180,000.” The UDC Board of Trustees offered him a multi-year contract, which he declined to take. Nonetheless, Board chairman Joe Askew seems optimistic he’ll change his mind. “The Board leadership and others are discussing with him the institution’s leadership and direction going forward as he has been a major component in the University’s Community College success and we hope that he will seriously consider staying if we can create a situation that works best for him and the institution,” Askew writes in an email.


CORRECTION, May 2, 5:45 p.m. – Due to a definitional mixup, this post originally reported that Gueverra had raised $10 million in private money over the last three years, to Sessoms’ $3.24 million. In fact, the $10 million also included grants and awards, not just private donations. Here is a graph of fiscal year 2011’s grants and awards UDC-wide: