Candidates file for Merced College trustee seats

07/28/2014 7:06 PM

07/29/2014 4:52 PM

With four Merced College trustee seats up for election this November, four hopefuls have filed to run with two weeks left before the deadline.

As of Tuesday, incumbents Dennis Jordan and Joe Gutierrez as well as newcomers Leonel Villarreal and William Hamilton have officially filed the necessary paperwork to be on the Nov. 5 ballot in Merced County.

Cindy Lashbrook, the incumbent for Area 1, has yet to file but said Monday she intends to do so before the Aug. 8 deadline.

The board of trustees has seven seats, so there is the potential that the board could have four new faces joining three holdovers after the election.

Jordan joined the board as trustee for Area 4 in 2010 and is in his second year as president. During his term on the board, the college has hired a new college president, three vice presidents and had its accreditation reaffirmed.

“The college has definitely turned a corner,” the 73-year-old Merced resident said.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges reaffirmed the college’s full accreditation status without sanction earlier this month, giving the school a year of what amounts to a clean bill of health.

Jordan said he would like to be able to add courses as the economy continues to improve. The college has seen course numbers slashed as California dealt with budget gaps over the past decade.

Merced College is in a good position to see improvements, he said, as personnel has seen some turnover. “I’m excited about the prospect of serving another four years,” he said.

Jordan is retired after 39 years as an English instructor for high school and college students in Merced.

One of the newcomers, Hamilton, 28, filed paperwork to challenge Jordan for the Area 4 seat. The 28-year-old graduated from UC Merced in 2012 and works as a laboratory technician for the university, where he assists in preparing classrooms for science courses.

As a graduate of a community college – Reedley College – he said believes in the role that two-year schools play for many students. “I’ve really always viewed community colleges as California’s promise to its people,” he said. “You don’t even have to graduate from high school to go to a community college. It’s a great equalizer.”

He said he would like to lobby the college to get behind Senate Bill 850, which allows some community colleges in the state to award bachelor’s degrees. He said that could help Merced by providing a four-year degree in applied trades, like nursing.

Hamilton said he is a former member of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges and the Undergraduate Council at UC Merced, and has lobbied in Sacramento in those capacities.

Gutierrez was appointed to the Area 5 seat in January 2012 when former trustee Eugene Vierra resigned. A resident of Los Banos, Gutierrez, 52, represents the county’s west side.

Being a new trustee comes with a learning curve, he said, so he’s glad to have the experience under his belt.

Like Jordan, he pointed to the college’s work to regain its accreditation as an effort he is particularly proud of. The board has been successful at “cutting all the instability” out of the college’s administrative ranks, he said. “I see some good things coming,” he said.

Gutierrez has been a State Farm insurance agent for about 26 years. Before that, he taught elementary school in Winton, Atwater, Livingston and Planada, then taught Spanish for three years at Merced College’s Los Banos campus.

Lashbrook, 59, represents the Livingston area. She echoed her peers in picking her proudest moments in her first term on the board, pointing to accreditation and new administrators. “People are working together now, so we hope to be able to spend more time actually serving our students in our community and not just dealing with problems,” she said.

The farmer and agricultural consultant said she wants to makes sure that the board and school staff represent the ethnic diversity of Merced County. “We need to find a way to make sure that our outreach and even our job descriptions are not closing doors,” she said.

She said the college could also be a “magnet” with an educated workforce to draw better-paying jobs to Merced County. That effort could also help to keep educated young people in the county, she said.

The incumbent for Area 7, Les McCabe, said he does not intend to seek another term. The 87-year-old has served 16 years on the board.

Villarreal, 56, of Le Grand, said he decided to run for the Area 7 seat because of his experience with students. “I always liked working with students; I always like to see the students succeed,” he said.

He retired last year after working for Merced College for 34 years in the automotive shop. As an instructional support technician, he said, he aided instructors in demonstrations and teaching.

He said he wants to be involved in the decision-making process at Merced College to ensure students get the support they need to be successful. “I want to continue working closely with the administration on the current status of the accreditation,” he said.

Villarreal is in his second year on the board for the Le Grand Community Services District, and also served two years as president for the Classified School Employees Association at the college.

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