Three YCCD candidates will have say in projects

After the November election, three of the four candidates running for the Yosemite Commu- nity College District board of trustees will have sway over hundreds of millions of dollars.

Their priorities not only will affect how next year's $134 million budget is spent, but how the district pulls off $326 million worth of projects funded by Measure E, a bond passed by voters in 2004.

Current trustees have prioritized those projects, but there is wiggle room. Trustees can pull money from one project, for example, and use it on another.

So what do the candidates think students and the community need?

Incumbent Linda Flores thinks there should be more focus on turning out health care professionals. While the Northern San Joaquin Valley has been hit hard by the economic downturn, nursing is one of the few jobs that remains in high demand.

"We need to graduate more students in health care. We have a lottery system to get into the nursing program at MJC. It's hard to get in," Flores said.

Nursing students not only have to be smart enough to meet a minimum set of standards and test scores, they have to be lucky. Prospective students' names are put into a hat. If a student's name isn't pulled the first year, the name goes in twice the next year if the student still shows interest in the program.

"Unfortunately, my daughter is in that lottery, too," Flores said.

Incumbent Paul Neumann hopes finishing the Allied Health Building will help. When complete, the building will house the nursing program.

"It's a successful program. They just need more space," said Neumann, who also wants to see through the construction of a new science building. That building likely will be capped with solar panels to cut energy costs and teach students about alternative energy.

Incumbent Tom Hallinan is keeping a close watch on the solar-panel project. He is focused on how the district's two col- leges, Modesto and Columbia, can help the region's economy by investing in environmentally friendly construction. More than going green for the environ- ment's sake, Hallinan thinks the project will point students to- ward a brighter economic future.

"In my work, I see a lot of green building. It's going to be the next big thing when construction comes back," said Hallinan, an attorney for several small cities in Stanislaus County.

Mike Riley, a former chief financial officer for Diamond Walnut Growers who hopes to win a seat from one of the incumbents, thinks the district should focus more on vocational training.

"Community businesses have a real need for skilled workers," he said.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.