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Community college leaders, aspirant discuss quality, cuts

Candidates seeking to lead the local community college district agreed this weekend that the future holds a balancing act - cost-cutting while striving to preserve nationally recognized quality.

Four candidates faced off at a forum organized by the League of Women Voters at Los Altos’ main library.

They’re contending in the Nov. 6 election for three open seats on the Foothill De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees.
Incumbents Joan Barram, Betsy Bechtel and Laura Casas Frier played up fundraising and sustainable energy successes in recent years, while challenger Geby Espinosa stuck closely to a budget-trimming platform.
 
“My biggest concern is the state of the economy in California, and I want to improve the economy by making community college more accessible,” Espinosa said.
 
The incumbents described a board that collaborated smoothly and had succeeded in negotiating $5 million in concessions from union workers in recent years as belts tightened across the district.
 
The forum included brief opening and closing statements from each candidate but otherwise relied on audience-submitted questions. Areas of curiosity and concern included program cuts, green building plans and alternate funding sources.
 
When asked where they stood on state propositions 30 and 38, the candidates showed differences of opinion. Bechtel supports 30 and opposes 38, and Barram appeared to feel the same way – both noted that while Proposition 38 appealingly funded K-12 and early-childhood education, it cut community colleges from the list of funded public education. Proposition 30 would raise funds for public education and public safety by raising the sales tax 1/4 of one cent for four years, and increase the income tax for high-earners by 1-3 percent. Proposition 38 would raise funds for early childhood and K-12 education through raising the income tax on everyone who makes more than $7,316 a year.
 
Casas Frier said she supports both propositions, with the caveat that “Proposition 30 is better for the future of California.” Espinosa said that she thinks “a temporary tax to fund education is not a good idea.”
 
Asked how they would prioritize cuts, or program growth, during budget swings in coming years, the three incumbents all described a central focus on three areas for the colleges – workforce development, transfers to four-year universities and basic skills.
 
Barram said that as funding becomes available to reinstate or expand classes, “we’re adding back where the demand is, where we have students waiting in line for those classes they need to transfer.”
 
Casas Frier raised the concern that by cutting programs like sports, students from underserved communities are losing a vehicle for connecting to the community college. She said that participation in sports leads to academic investment at the community college.
 
Asked about donations, Bechtel noted that the district’s $30 million foundation already funded scholarships each year and said the board of trustees was looking to expand partnerships with companies and individual philanthropists to gain additional funding, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
 
Asked about forging community relationships and increasing public awareness of the district’s mission, Espinosa said she could build on experience gained as a student at De Anza College in 2008, but added that the board must “look at the numbers.”
 
“I am running for office to fix it economically,” she said, noting as a first step, “my goal is to legalize the hemp industry.”
 
In addition to two members of the press, a citizen journalist, members of the League of Women Voters and attendees identified as family members of candidates, only two to three members of the public appeared to have attended the forum.

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