The Yosemite Community College District board has four of its seven seats up for election, a potential sea change for the panel, which has weathered internal strife and community dissent this year.
All are contested races, with incumbents running in three of them. Trustee Mike Riley did not seek re-election. Trustee Anne DeMartini, censured by the board in August after rebuking an employee over a political donation, is not up for re-election.
Two of those running teach part-time at Modesto Junior College and would have to give up their jobs if elected. Bill Holly is an adjunct professor in philosophy. Leslie Beggs is an adjunct in English; her husband is MJC English professor James Beggs. For her part, Beggs said that if elected she would have more time for hobbies. Holly did not respond to the emailed question. Board members serve without pay but do have district-paid health benefits.
At a League of Women Voters candidates forum Thursday attended by seven of the nine running, there were areas of agreement. All strongly backed expanding career-technical courses, developing ties with more businesses and expanding internship opportunities to keep students on track.
Abe Rojas said 90 percent of credential finishers get jobs, a key motivator to raise completion rates. Fellow incumbent Linda Flores stressed the district already has strong ties with employers. Challengers brought up other ideas.
Patrick Kolasinski proposed expanding community-paid courses to fulfill high-need certifications such as dental hygienist, paralegal and accounting – markets tapped by private colleges – while helping the district raise needed revenue.
Darin Gharat suggested having retirees in each field help mentor students, and creation of a jobs center focused on employer needs. Beggs pointed to a need for stronger writing skills, with too many students not ready for the workplace or college.
The pain of layoffs and program closures made in 2011 came through clearly, with all the candidates pledging a more open and thoughtful process should school-funding extension Proposition 55 fail to pass. The estimate is community college funding will fall 10 percent over the next three years as temporary taxes expire.
“We can’t do what we did,” Kevin Sabo pledged, saying the board rubber-stamped the cuts.
Since adjunct faculty is the first to go when funding is cut, Holly said, he would propose a 5 percent cut for full-time faculty and a 10 percent cut for administrators – “shared sacrifice.”
Holly and Sabo are competing for the seat now held by Rojas, board chair and 20-year veteran. Area 3 serves Turlock, Denair and Hughson.
Oakdale native Sabo was student body president at MJC in 2012-13. He works as a legislative aide for a Sacramento-based nonprofit while finishing a B.A. in government at California State University, Sacramento. Top priorities, he said in a response to Modesto Bee questions, are better representation for towns outside Modesto and Columbia, and expanding the role of community colleges in revitalizing the Central Valley. His energy and fresh ideas are what he says set him apart.
Holly said the destruction of books replaced by virtual versions during library renovations caused him to run for the board. “When the library opened, it didn’t even look like a library,” he said. Also a top issue, one he brought up several times at the forum, are board policies on discrimination, harassment or sexual misconduct that include victim protections required under federal education law. Holly said the recently revised policies violate due process rights by not giving the accused access to information in the complaint, or the ability to confront and question the person making the charge. Holly said he was never given the names of two who accused him or details of the charges, which were dropped.
Rojas, who runs 2 to 5 miles a day at 81, said his top priority if re-elected was fiscal responsibility. “We really have to monitor the budgets,” he said. Rojas sits on the legislative committee of the Community College League of California, and said he brings vast experience to a job with more facets than most people see. “There’s a lot more to it than the rhetoric, and I hope people see that,” he said.
Gharat is challenging incumbent Flores for the Area 5 seat that serves northwest Modesto and Salida.
Flores strongly supports the YCCD program to improve student completion rates. “Finally faculty, as well as support staff, are having discussions about student success, especially for our underrepresented populations,” she said. Experience on the board and as a longtime retired teacher sets her apart on the board, Flores said. A top concern for her are traffic problems during this year’s west campus construction.
Her rival is a retired Hughson police chief now active with CASA (court-appointed special advocates) of Stanislaus County and chair of the Juvenile Justice Commission of Stanislaus County. Gharat said his top issues are using out-of-the-box thinking to get students prepared for the workplace or university, and a higher level of oversight over long-term planning and budgeting. He wants to see greater coordination with high schools and working with employers to promote career-technical courses.
With no incumbent running, Beggs and Kolasinski are competing for the Area 6 seat serving central Modesto.
Beggs said she was moved to run by a free speech confrontation over a student stopped from handing out free copies of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day in 2013. Her top priority will be to bring transparency and strong oversight to a board, she said, that has “become cheerleaders for the top executives.” Student support efforts the board has backed may be fruitless, Beggs said, explaining students arriving with skills below college level might be better served by vocational courses. Beggs served as a Bee visiting editor in 2001 and is a freelance writer.
For Kolasinski, the top issue is openness, with board insulation to blame for morale problems among staff and frustration by the community. To change that, he pledged to hold a monthly lunch on the MJC campus to hear concerns. He supports expansion of student success programs and career-focused programs including, he said, “a non-predatory alternative to the for-profit colleges that blossom because of a clearly perceived and unmet (by YCCD) need.” Kolasinski said he would bring a talent for creative and cooperative problem solving to the board.
Challenger Jon Rodriguez is facing incumbent Tom Hallinan in the race for Area 7, an oddly shaped district that covers much of Ceres as well as a swath of south Modesto. Neither was present at the candidates forum.
Hallinan, an attorney with extensive volunteer experience, named fiscal stability as the top issue facing the next board. “I have had to make some tough financial decisions while on the (YCCD board),” he said. He backs the student support efforts in place, he said, but wants to see what works before adding more. “My constituents tell me that we need more vocational-technical education,” he said.
Rodriguez, an almond farmer, said community college needs to be an economical start for students, particularly from his district, where many are low-income. “A person working at a normal job comes out with tens of thousands in debt,” he said. Community college also provides an avenue to hands-on careers for many people, he said. Sorting it all out was difficult for him, Rodriguez said, adding that he would support more emphasis on guidance and counseling.
Yosemite Community College District board candidates
Area 3, age 73
Occupation: Modesto Junior College adjunct instructor in philosophy
Education: B.S. in philosophy, Ph.D. in philosophy
Family: Wife, Amalie, and six grown children
Area 3, age 81
Occupation: Retired city of Turlock director of parks and recreation
Education: Modesto Junior College, California State University, Stanislaus
Family: Wife, Sharon, and three grown children
Info: Facebook, Abe Rojas YCCD re-elect Area 3
Area 3, age 25
Occupation: Legislative aide, American Academy of Pediatrics, California
Education: A.A. social and behavioral sciences from MJC
Family: Single, no children
Area 5, age 69
Occupation: Retired teacher for Modesto City Schools
Education: B.A, teaching credential, bilingual credential, Masters degree in education
Family: Three grown children
Area 5, age 51
Occupation: Retired Hughson chief of police; Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office; volunteer posts on board of directors of CASA of Stanislaus County, county Juvenile Justice Commission, county Employees Retirement Association board
Education: A.A. from MJC, B.A. in management
Family: Wife, Stacy
Area 6, age 57
Occupation: MJC adjunct English professor; Suzuki piano instructor; volunteer work with Modesto Covenant Church, county Equal Rights Commission
Education: B.A. English, M.A. English
Family: Husband, Jim, three grown sons
Area 6, age 37
Occupation: Attorney, Law Offices of Patrick Kolasinski; volunteer work with El Concilio, the Stanislaus County Family Justice Center, and the LightBox Theatre Company in Turlock
Education: A.A. in theater from MJC, B.A. in dramatic arts, J.D. from McGeorge School of Law
Family: Wife, Vallerie
Area 7, age 55
Occupation: City/special district attorney; Gaming Policy Advisory Committee member to the California Gambling Control Commission
Education: MJC, B.A. from Fresno State, J.D. from Lincoln Law School
Family: Wife, Anna Marie, two grown children and a 17-year-old son
Area 7, age 29
Occupation: Almond farmer
Education: A.A. in behavioral and social science from MJC