Voter Guide: Community college board


Click on photos to enlarge and see captions.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

Seven candidates are running for three open seats on the governing board of the San Mateo County Community College district in San Mateo County, which includes Canada College in Woodside.

The Almanac, in preparing for candidate endorsements for the Nov. 8 election, planned to send questionnaires to all seven candidates, but two -- Jaime Diaz and Shawn Kann -- did not include contact information in filing their papers with the Elections Office.

Of the five who did include contact information, candidate Michael G. Stogner wrote to say that he did not want the Almanac's endorsement, citing a previous Almanac endorsement for the board of the Sequoia Health Care District that, Mr. Stogner said, "misled taxpayers and voters."

Of the remaining four candidates, three are incumbents: Dave Mandelkern, a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur first elected to the board in 2003; Patricia Miljanich, an attorney for an educational nonprofit and first elected in 1995; and Karen Schwarz, a business woman first elected in 1995.

The newcomer is Joe Ross, also an attorney for an educational nonprofit.

The candidates' responses to the Almanac's questionnaire are the basis for this story.

Another half billion?

The college district board is asking voters to approve Measure H, which would tap property owners, including property owners in Menlo Park, Woodside, Atherton and Portola Valley, for $564 million to modernize facility and infrastructure on the district's three college campuses, including in San Mateo and San Bruno.

To pass, Measure H will need approval of 55 percent of the voters. The four candidates support it. Voters have approved $675 million in two other bond measures since 2001.

Asked to justify asking for another half billion dollars, the candidates noted that the district has seen funding evaporate, including $200 million in state funding canceled in 2006 and $25 million lost in the 2008 collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank.

The candidates noted the importance of up-to-date science, technology, engineering and math curriculums for students transferring to four-year schools for undergraduate education and beyond.

Ms. Schwarz noted that a survey showed voter support of around 70 percent. "As an elected trustee, I listen to the community and will let them decide if the district should be awarded another facility bond," she added.

Given the unreliability of state funding, the district has become "very entrepreneurial" at fundraising, Ms. Miljanich said, adding that the board has an "obligation to give the community an opportunity to support the completion of capital projects."

Modern facilities support fundamental coursework in careers such as computer and network forensics, biotechnology manufacturing, multimedia game design and green tech, Mr. Mandelkern wrote, noting that J. Craig Venter, the man behind the first sequencing of the human genome, got his start at the College of San Mateo.

"Research shows there is a direct correlation between the quality of facilities and academic achievement," Mr. Ross wrote. High-wage careers from such studies are growing and changing and all of them require at least an associate's degree, he added.

Rich campus, poor campus

In 2001, state Proposition 39 changed the rules to allow voters to approve school-district bond measures with a 55 percent majority instead of the two-thirds majority needed for most taxes. Bond measures have been passing frequently while parcel taxes less so, leaving some districts with few alternatives to restore operating budgets. What can be done?

"One thing I would start with is recruiting nonprofits to support students," Mr. Ross wrote. "The district board has done a good job of squeezing lemonade out of the lemons from Sacramento. ... But the board could go further to engage additional communities and resources to support our community colleges with not just dollars, but also human capital."

"It is very important to avoid an 'edifice complex' and not just build things because we can," Mr. Mandelkern wrote, and noted the board's efforts to find other resources, including the $34 parcel tax approved in 2010 and which generates $5 million to $6 million annually for its four-year run. Energy conservation has reduced operating expenses for utilities by $1 million a year, he wrote.

The good news with a healthy capital budget is that it allows a district to reallocate funds for operating needs, Ms. Miljanich wrote. While the district has enough faculty to meet current demand, "for the first time since I have been on the board, we have students on our waiting lists (who) cannot enroll in even one class," she wrote.

"Schools are not rich, period!" wrote Ms. Schwarz, noting that the San Mateo County college district is alone in California in having won a parcel tax from voters. "That money is being used to hire teachers for classes that were previously cut, but is only good for four years," she wrote. "There is no luxury money to hire faculty or staff. I am proud of our entire faculty and am confident they are leading our students into the 21st-century global competition."

A blue-sky question

The Almanac asked the candidates how they might re-order the post-secondary educational infrastructure if they had the influence and the resources.

Ms. Schwarz said she would change the way money is allocated from Sacramento to public colleges and universities. Community colleges receive $6,000 per student compared to $12,000 for the California State University system and $18,000 for the University of California system. "It seems discriminating to me to fund at such a different level while providing the same education," she said.

San Mateo County needs a four-year publicly funded college, particularly for students lacking the time and means to commute to San Francisco or San Jose, Ms. Miljanich said. She would also raise the number of four-year programs that Canada College now offers in cooperation with San Francisco State and Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

"It's too bad that you didn't ask about re-ordering the local K-12 education infrastructure because frankly that would have more impact," Mr. Mandelkern wrote, then agreed with Ms. Miljanich's point about a public four-year school in the county. He said he would seek more collaboration with nearby state universities and an expanded presence in the county's coastal communities.

The current education funding system is "perverse" in its under-funding of needy schools districts, such as in Redwood City and East Palo Alto, Mr. Ross wrote. Among the steps he would consider: school districts that are K-16, high schools that require a UC-approved curriculum to graduate, greater access to counseling and support in college, and greater access to college classes in high school.

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2 people like this
Posted by Jon Castor
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Oct 18, 2011 at 12:10 am

While a new 4 year college is a nice idea, I'm surprised to read the talk of trying to start one in the county when there isn't enough money to fully fund the existing 4 year schools in California. To be fair, the idea was offered in response to a 'blue sky' question. Nonetheless, given current and reasonably forseeable budget circumstances the District should probably concentrate on being the most outstanding 2 year community college possible in an era of limits. It would be more illuminating to this voter to hear what it will take besides more facilities to accomplish that goal.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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