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Meet the candidates for the Foothill-De Anza district board of trustees

Six candidates are running for three seats on the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees in the Nov. 8 election.

Patrick Ahrens, Peter Landsberger, Orrin Mahoney, Eric Rosenthal and Gilbert Wong join incumbent Laura Casas in the race.

The candidates responded to the Town Crier’s questions on issues facing the district, including allocation of bond funds and declining enrollment.

Rosenthal did not return his responses by the Town Crier’s deadline, so his answers are not included.

The candidates are scheduled to face off in the League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forum 7:30-9 p.m. Thursday at the Los Altos main library, 13 S. San Antonio Road.

Patrick Ahrens

Ahrens
Ahrens

Age: 27

City of residence: Cupertino

Experience with FHDA: Former De Anza student; student trustee on FHDA Board of Trustees; current FHDA Foundation Board of Directors member

Information: patrickahrens.com

 Q: Why are you running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees?

A: I am running because I want to help bring new energy to the issues facing students today.

My background in public service and as a former De Anza student and student trustee uniquely qualify me to represent you on this board.

As the first in my family to go to college, our district has given me the opportunity to succeed in my life. I know what it is like to be a student trying to manage through the bureaucracy of higher education, pay for your classes and books, and do well in your classes.

We have a lot of work to do, and I can’t wait to get started!

Q: What are the top issues facing the district and, if elected, how do you plan to address them?

A: Funding: We must continue to look for new and innovative ways to support our students. West Valley – Mission College is offering the first semester tuition-free for their students. I would like to see FHDA be able to do this by the end of my first term.

• Achievement gap: We all do better when we work together to help students. I hope to go into the local high schools and do more than just placement testing – partnering with high schools to get our students up to speed faster so that they can succeed in college.

• Campus safety: I plan to work with the district police to do more outreach to students to improve campus safety, from answering emergency calls to providing a safe campus for our night school students. I will work with everyone to ensure that our district is safe.

Q: Construction has been ongoing at both community colleges, thanks to bond funds approved by the community in 2006. How do you plan to be a good steward in allocating the remaining bond funds?

A: Our district has been extremely blessed to have such a supportive community through the passage of our bond measures. The district implemented an independent Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee that appoints constituents to oversee that the spending of our taxpayer dollars is done ethically and in a fiscally responsible way. I will work with my fellow board members, the committee and district administrators to ensure that the remaining funds are spent in the most frugal way to maximize the benefit to our students.

Q: Enrollment declined last year. What actions can the board take to ensure that community college education is accessible to all?

A: Strengthen our outreach program with local high schools. We already do a great job at this, but we should review what we already do to find ways to improve.

Other actions include further marketing the Valley Transportation Authority’s Echo pass, adopting more free online textbooks, bringing back the ability to repeat classes for our lifelong learners and working with stakeholders to establish a “Silicon Valley Promise Campaign” – offering the first two years of college debt-free.

Laura Casas (incumbent)

Casas
Casas

Age: 55

City of residence: Mountain View

Experience with FHDA: FHDA board member since 2006

Information: votelauracasas.com

Q: Why are you running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees?

A: Two very distinguished and knowledgeable Foothill-De Anza Community College District board members have decided not to run for re-election. I have been a capable and effective board member for the past 10 years. I am up for re-election. There are three seats and six candidates. My re-election provides institutional knowledge, experience and stability on the board going forward. Most important, I am passionate about student success especially in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Q: What are the top issues facing the district and, if elected, how do you plan to address them?

A: Chronic underfunding and constant unpredictable budget allocation amounts from Sacramento, which makes budget planning difficult. I support stable and predictable funding.

• Student completion of workforce development goals and successful student transfer to four year colleges. I have passionately given priority to student support services in order to accomplish the completion and transfer goals.

• Future pension security and medical liability contract obligations for our employees and retirees. Our college has a strategic plan to cover these obligations. I support the plan.

• The delivery of education is changing. The use of open education resources available for free online can supplement information in the classroom, reducing textbook costs to our students. The issue is quality of the information. Foothill-De Anza has been a leader in this regard by passing policy positions and leaving the faculty to determine the quality of the information.

• Adequate and affordable housing for our employees and students. Our district attempted to address this issue with a plan to develop Moffett Field. That plan fell through. This is a complicated issue that requires a regional solution.

Q: Construction has been ongoing at both community colleges, thanks to bond funds approved by the community in 2006. How do you plan to be a good steward in allocating the remaining bond funds?

A: I believe I have been a good steward of bond funds and will continue to do so in the future. The voters overwhelmingly approved a $491 million bond measure and authorized a tax of $24 per $100,000 assessed property value. Through careful and judicious management and investment of bond funds, the tax was only $16. A substantial savings to the taxpayer.

Q: Enrollment declined last year. What actions can the board take to ensure that community college education is accessible to all?

There are many reasons for enrollment decline. Both Foothill and De Anza colleges have aggressive marketing and outreach plans to increase enrollment. The board is in support of these plans and carefully monitoring the progress. Most important is communication with our high school feeder districts about the high-quality education available in our community at a tremendous cost savings to our students.

Peter Landsberger

Landsberger
Landsberger

Age: Declined to state

City of residence: Los Altos

Experience with FHDA: Board member, Foothill-De Anza Foundation; former teacher and dean of the Business/Computer Systems Division at De Anza College; former vice chancellor and general counsel for FHDA

Information: plandsberger.com

Q: Why are you running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees?

A: Everyone in our community should have a chance to receive a good and affordable education. It’s essential to building a society that is fair and an economy that is prosperous. I’ve been a teacher, a dean, a college president and a district chancellor. I hope to contribute all that I’ve learned from that experience to keep Foothill and De Anza strong and help them become even better.

Q: What are the top issues facing the district and, if elected, how do you plan to address them?

A: First, every student who comes to Foothill or De Anza deserves a realistic opportunity to succeed there. That requires good teachers and the right classes, but also strong support services like academic and career counseling, financial aid, library services and tutoring. Partnerships with community groups to create initiatives like the Veterans Resource Center at Foothill, with strong support from the Rotary Club of Los Altos, are also important.

Second, good-paying jobs with career potential require some post-secondary education, so the transition from high school to college should be seamless. It’s not. Changing that requires closer cooperation with local high schools, a process that starts with more robust collaboration between college and high school faculty and staff to identify hurdles and ways to minimize or eliminate them.

Finally, exemplary colleges like Foothill and De Anza need to remain wary of becoming complacent. I have extensive experience in the community college system at several institutions. While I will be a strong champion of the colleges, I also have the expertise to push for beneficial change and continuous improvement.

Q: Construction has been ongoing at both community colleges, thanks to bond funds approved by the community in 2006. How do you plan to be a good steward in allocating the remaining bond funds?

A: Ten years ago, local voters authorized a $490 million bond measure to renovate the colleges. To date, $449 million has been spent and the capital improvement program is nearing conclusion. The Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee has received regular financial and performance audits, reviewed expenditures to ensure compliance and issued annual reports. I will ensure that that sort of robust public accountability and oversight is continued.

Q: Enrollment declined last year. What actions can the board take to ensure that community college education is accessible to all?

A: Foothill and De Anza both struggle to enroll the number of students they need to earn all of the revenue they are entitled to from the state. That trend cannot be allowed to continue. It will eventually lead to serious financial instability. I have tackled enrollment management issues at colleges in several communities. If elected, I know I will be able to help my fellow board members analyze enrollment issues and help the district’s leadership evaluate strategies to address them.

Orrin Mahoney

Mahoney
Mahoney

Age: 71

City of residence: Cupertino

Experience with FHDA: 14 years on the De Anza Commission, including serving as co-chairman; five years as lead of the Taste of History fundraising event for De Anza; three years as member of the Foothill-De Anza Foundation Board of Directors

Information: mahoney4foothill-deanza.com

Q: Why are you running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees?

A: I am running for the Foothill-De Anza board because I am the only candidate who combines the high-tech business experience and significant government experience the district needs to move forward in today’s dynamic educational and economic environment. My 35 years of managerial experience at Hewlett-Packard taught me the importance of solid strategic and financial planning as well the value of continuous lifelong learning. My 17 years of government experience as a planning commissioner, councilmember and two-time mayor taught me the value of collaborative decision-making, including community outreach.

Q: What are the top issues facing the district and, if elected, how do you plan to address them?

A: Finances are always an issue, and we need to work toward solid fiscal management and other funding options such as a possible parcel tax.

We also have an aging infrastructure that has been helped by the bond funds referenced below, but still leave some unmet needs.

Finally, the cost of living, especially housing, will impact our ability to attract and retain top talent.

One of my main goals is to partner with our high schools, cities and businesses to work on the issues highlighted above.

Q: Construction has been ongoing at both community colleges, thanks to bond funds approved by the community in 2006. How do you plan to be a good steward in allocating the remaining bond funds?

A: I have solid track record of overseeing construction projects and bond programs. During my nine years on the Cupertino City Council, we completed the Mary Avenue Bridge, the Stevens Creek Trail and several other city parks. I also have been on two school Bond Oversight Committees, each involving several hundred million dollars in construction projects.

Q: Enrollment declined last year. What actions can the board take to ensure that community college education is accessible to all?

A: Enrollment is often inversely correlated with the economic environment, as people are more like to take classes when unemployed or underemployed. In addition, in 2012 the state passed new regulations limiting the repeatability of courses, also impacting enrollment. However, we still need to maintain a strong outreach program, both in the high schools and the community as whole. We need to work toward making the “College Promise” a reality by ensuring that finances do not get in the way of getting a good education for those who need the help.

Gilbert Wong

Wong
Wong

Age: 49

City of residence: Cupertino

Experience with FHDA: 3.5 years on the De Anza Commission

Information: gilbertswong.com; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Q: Why are you running for the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees?

A: I have a passion for education, as my immigrant parents taught me to work hard, respect my elders and earn a solid education. I was born, raised and educated in Santa Clara Valley. After graduating from Los Gatos High School, I was uncertain as to my next steps. My counselor suggested West Valley College, which is where I gained my self-confidence and eventually transferred to San Jose State University. I was the first in my family to attend college, and I developed the passion to help immigrant families like mine. I served seven years on the planning commission, nine years on the city council, seven years on Chamber of Commerce board and two years on the School Site Council. My experience, leadership and commitment will help me continue my passion for public service and be the education advocate.

Q: What are the top issues facing the district and, if elected, how do you plan to address them?

A: Education equity and access for students are my top issues. First, students like I was who just graduated from high school may want to attend college for two years before transferring to a four-year college. Second, students may want a vocational or change of career with programs like nursing or automotive technology programs. Third, a student may want to enroll for lifelong learning like golf or a foreign language.

Not enough dollars are coming from Sacramento, and the district is making tough choices to cut classes, which may cause students to graduate in more than two years, not find needed classes or not allowed to repeat courses. As a public policy maker, I will work with the administration to be effective in scheduling classes to balance the needs of the students and provide the classes needed for the students.

Q: Construction has been ongoing at both community colleges, thanks to bond funds approved by the community in 2006. How do you plan to be a good steward in allocating the remaining bond funds?

A: I will be a good steward in allocating bond funds by working closely with district administration and the seven-member Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee to ensure that funds go for appropriate repairs and facility upgrades to keep them modern. Audits are performed on all expenditures, and I look forward to monitoring the De Anza College Flint Center parking garage retrofit and the future District Office at Foothill College. I will monitor the bond money as if it were my own money to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent wisely.

Q: Enrollment declined last year. What actions can the board take to ensure that community college education is accessible to all?

A: Enrollment is declining for the district as well as statewide, and a decrease in full-time students means less revenue from Sacramento. I would continue the policy of Dr. Brian Murphy at De Anza College with strong billboard marketing campaigns on county buses. Because of word of mouth, Santa Clara County high school students are choosing our district due to our academic reputation. I also would supplement those enrollment numbers with international and out-of-state students. As revenue students, their tuitions are not subsidized, which results in additional revenue to our district.

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