Education

State Center board: 2 running for college panel

For the first time in decades, voters in one part of the State Center Community College District will elect a new representative in the fall election.

Les Thonesen, the incumbent in trustee Area 4, didn't file for another term. He said it was "time to move on" after nearly 30 years in office.

On Nov. 2, voters will choose between Humberto Garza, an author and retired university professor, and Ron Nishinaka, projects director for Tree Fresno and retired Reedley College instructor.

Garza, 70, of Sanger said he was recruited to run by colleagues and friends whose children have struggled to find classes.

"I think I can be of benefit to the district," said Garza, who also has taught at community colleges.

In part, Garza said he is concerned about class schedule cuts and state funding formulas that treat community colleges like "stepchildren of the higher education system."

He said he wants to lobby to improve the state's per-student funding for community colleges.

Nishinaka, 66, of Reedley touted his experience and background as a retired horticulture instructor and faculty leader, former business owner and former Reedley City Council member.

"The biggest challenge facing schools or colleges is the budget," he said.

While accepting financial reality, the district must find ways to carry out its mission without compromising service to students, Nishinaka said. In addition, he advocated cultivating new funding sources and partnerships.

State Center, which has about 36,000 students, spans more than 5,500 square miles in Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties. This year's budget is about $167 million.

The fall election will be the first in which only voters in an individual area select their trustee. Trustees approved the switch from at-large elections in January.

Area 4 is the only contested trustee race. Incumbents Isabel Barreras, who represents the Madera area, and Dorothy Smith, who represents central Fresno, are unopposed.

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