This is a time of tremendous opportunity for State Center Community College District, which has about 50,000 students at its three colleges and two centers.
State funding is on the upswing thanks to California’s recovering economy, and district voters in June showed great confidence in the district by approving a $485 million construction bond. In addition, there are new leaders in place: Chancellor Paul Parnell, Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith and Clovis Community College President Lori Bennett.
All indications are that State Center – after years of high turnover among campus leaders, dismal graduation rates and failing to keep pace with new technologies – is poised to make a positive difference in the lives of more students, increase its contributions to the central San Joaquin Valley economy and further lift up our region’s quality of life.
But a question remains: Can the district’s board of trustees, whose job it is to set goals and craft policy in support of those goals, focus on student success and not get sidetracked by minor issues and personalities?
It’s clear to us that voters finally are demanding that the district raise its game. In the 2014 election, challengers Miguel Arias and Bobby Kahn defeated longtime incumbents and infused the board with a new outlook and energy.
We recognize that Payne stumbled upon joining the board after the 2012 election. He submitted an op-ed to The Bee that was plagiarized and used a disability placard to illegally park at a board meeting.
Lessons learned, he has served his area constituents and students well. Payne has prodded the board to think more about what is best for students – many of whom are the first in their families to attend college – and direct funding to supportive services. He connects well with state leaders in Sacramento and devotes many hours to his work as a trustee.
Payne’s biggest accomplishment is especially noteworthy. He fought for – and succeeded – in getting the construction of a much-needed community college center in southwest Fresno included in the Measure C bond.
Two other Area 2 candidates also stand out. Catherine Amador entered the race at the suggestion of former State Center Chancellor Bill Stewart. She is highly qualified to serve on the board, and her experience as a family law attorney undoubtedly has taught her how to be a voice of reason in tough situations.
Pao Yang has served as director of admissions for DeVry University in Fresno and Bakersfield and for Institute of Technology in Clovis. Earlier in life, he was a product development engineer in Silicon Valley. The son of immigrant parents who fled Laos after the Vietnam War, Pao would bring valuable insight about the cultural barriers immigrant students face and how they might overcome them.
Leal, who was first elected to the board in 2012, is a former high school teacher and principal. His command of the district’s strengths and challenges and knowledge of his trustee area make him a clear-cut choice over retired engineer Ted Miller, who ran for the California Assembly earlier this year.
Moreover, Leal has exhibited great dedication to his board service and an ability to mesh with other trustees. He is a strong advocate for transparency and ensuring that the community participates in broad discussions about Measure C projects.
Area 6 Trustee Patrick E. Patterson has served on the board since 1983 despite running low-key campaigns and not soliciting campaign donations. This speaks to the high regard that Clovis voters have for the retired police captain.
We believe, however, that Ikeda is a better choice for voters at this time. She is the recently retired president of Clovis Community College and would bring years of previous service on high-profile boards and oversight committees in Clovis and Fresno.
Her experience as a community college president could be a valuable asset to the board and the chancellor and, ultimately, to students.