On Nov. 2, Cindy Lashbrook, an organic farmer and an agriculture consultant, will run against the incumbent, Merced College board president Eva de Long, as a board trustee for District 1, which serves Livingston and Delhi.
De Long, who works as the Head Start education coordinator for the Merced County Office of Education, was appointed as a board member in 1998 and has run unopposed twice.
The election will be the first time de Long will have competition.
Merced College trustees serve four-year terms and represent one of seven districts within the county.
De Long said she wants to continue serving as a trustee because she feels she has the experience and doesn't want to leave projects unfinished. "We started some renovations and I would like to see them completed," she said, referring to Measure H and J, two bonds that were passed by voters in 2002 to improve facilities at Merced College and the Los Banos campus which total about $60 million.
Both candidates recognized the economy as the biggest obstacle facing the college.
The budget is a major challenge, especially with increased demand from students, de Long said. "We need to make hard decisions, but we don't want to be cutting classes right now," she added.
More students are coming to community college because it's cheaper than a four-year university, de Long said. Then there are people who have been laid off from their jobs and are looking to learn new skills so they can re-enter the work force.
"We are the ones who can give them that, whether it's a vocational program or another type of career," de Long added. "For me, that's the major challenge for us." There aren't enough funds to pay for classes at the times that people need the community college the most, she said.
As trustee, de Long said she would continue to lobby for students at the state level asking legislators to sign the state budget and include the appropriate funding to serve community colleges.
"I have been writing letters to different people who deal with the budget letting them know we need an efficient budget to educate our students," she said.
Lashbrook, who worked as an adjunct agriculture teacher at Merced College for almost 10 years, said she plans to make sure most of general funds go toward serving students
"Anything that doesn't serve students should be the first thing to go," she said. "Administration needs to tighten their belts -- that way we keep as many classes going as we can. If other things need to be kicked to the wayside, they can because we have a lot demand from students."
The county's unemployment situation is dire, she added, and the college needs to be part of the solution.
"We need to make sure we are training people for jobs now and jobs in the future," she said. "If a company comes in here, we need to say, yes, we have an educated, trained population."
Merced College needs to stay ahead in terms of selecting classes that will reflect the future job market, she added.
Being visible and accessible to the college community is how de Long said she sees her role as trustee, because she's here to serve everyone.
Lashbrook said she plans to serve as a bridge to students and faculty between administrative decisions, she said. "Everybody needs to be listened to and their opinions need to be taken seriously," she added.
Lashbrook said she feels her direct experience working as a teacher at Merced College has prepared her for the role of trustee.
De Long said she knows and respects Lashbrook's works and hopes for an amicable race.
Both candidates said they plan to hit the streets soon to talk to voters about the election and who's best suited for the trustee position.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.