Jeff Jardine

Ex-MJC worker said veterans will struggle to get certified, school says they won’t

A couple of weeks ago, some veterans who attend or plan to attend Modesto Junior College received an email from Alberto Aranda who, until May 5, worked in the school’s Veterans Services Office.

The 27-year-old who served in the U.S. Marines told them he’d been fired after only six months on the job because he challenged his bosses – in particular Bryan Justin Marks, the associate dean of Campus Life & Student Learning, and Marks’ boss, Dean of Special Programs Francisco Banuelos – because they failed to move fast enough to fill three positions funded by a Veterans Success Grant that will run out in October 2018.

Aranda claims veteran students will suffer because his departure leaves the department without an official who can help them navigate the certification bureacracy. And he questions Marks’ and Banuelos’ understanding of the issues because neither, he said, ever served in the military, which Marks’ online bio confirms while there isn’t one for Banuelos.

“The worst part of them letting me go is that no one, and I mean no one knows how to certify or do my position,” he wrote. “Our dean Francisco Banuelos, and associate dean Bryan Justin Marks, have never observed nor done the job. The only information they have about the position is what is on the job description which only briefly describes my duties but have no clue what it looks like working at MJC.”

He went on to tell the vets who plan to attend summer courses that they won’t get their monthly book stipend and that those who rely on the California Veteran Fee Waiver will likely have to pay up front because, he said, “no one in the Veteran Service Office will know how to input your information in the system which will cause an out of pocket expense for you.”

“Now, Bryan Justin Marks is so oblivious to the certifying position that he is closing the Veterans Services on Monday and Tuesday for four hours where the majority of you have to register and turn in your VIC card for servification,” Aranda wrote.

Aranda has a backer in veteran and MJC student Samuel Valencia, who said having no certification specialist will make it more frustrating and difficult for veterans in the summer or fall semesters. He contacted The Bee hoping “put some fire under their (backsides) to make sure they support their troops.”

Neither Marks nor Banuelos returned my calls on Monday to respond to or refute Aranda’s comment, but James Todd, the college’s vice president of student services did and said the school does have a trained backup certification specialist who will step in until administrators go through the proces of hiring Aranda’s replacement.

“Over the last five years, we’ve increased our capacity to support veterans,” Todd said. “We have a program coach available.”

And MJC President Jill Stearns sent a letter to veteran students telling them their needs will be met and that there will “no disruption of certification.”

“There is a district certifying official in place to serve our campus,” she wrote. “All paperwork for certification will be processed for signature in a timely manner as soon as it arrives at MJC.”

My advice to Aranda, who no doubt is passionate about serving fellow veterans, would be to think again before launching on your former employer because it isn’t the best way to get a new one. And it is not unusual for new employees to fail their probationary periods because the six-month test-drive didn’t go so well.

Regardless, the school has an obligation to make sure its 450 or so veteran students get the help they need and deserve. Some fought wars overseas, under conditions most bureaucrats couldn’t possibly imagine. These vets shouldn’t get outgunned in the battle of the paperwork shuffle when they come home and return to school.