Voters in State Center Community College District, which includes large chunks of Fresno and Madera counties and slivers of Kings and Tulare counties, sent a clear message in Tuesday’s election.
They believe in the district, they want up-to-date facilities and they see a great opportunity to strengthen the Valley economy by teaching the skills required of today’s in-demand jobs.
Needing 55 percent voter approval to secure passage of the $485 million Measure C bond measure, the district easily surpassed the hurdle – a sign that, amid the loud national conversation about America being in decline, local residents are optimistic about the future and willing to invest in education.
Do not underestimate the size of this taxpayer investment. The bond will raise property taxes by $18.50 per $100,000 of assessed value. The estimated cost to repay the bonds is nearly $1 billion.
Thus the passage and implementation of Measure C are accompanied by great responsibility for district leaders such as Chancellor Paul Parnell and the district’s seven-member board of trustees: Richard Caglia, John Leal, Bobby Kahn, Miguel Arias, Richard Nishinaka, Patrick Patterson and Eric Payne.
They must fulfill the promises made while touting the bond to voters. This means new construction and upgrades at every campus.
Working in collaboration with the business community, vocational education programs must be elevated to cutting-edge levels.
Parking at Fresno City College, long a nightmare for students and neighbors, must be improved.
And the district must make good on its long-unfulfilled promise from a previous bond to build a new academy for training police, fire and emergency medical personnel.
We recognize that circumstances sometimes dictate change. When these occur, the district must be upfront about potential deviations from previously announced plans and engage the community in conversations about the alternatives. Don’t insult taxpayers who are carrying the freight for these much-needed improvements by announcing a change after a little-publicized, lightly attended board meeting.
State Center once was regarded as one of the nation’s jewels. It has struggled in recent years, so much so that it brought back former Chancellor Bill Stewart at the age of 79 to right the ship after trustees forced the retirement of Deborah Blue in early 2014.
Stewart’s “deputy” and “interim” chancellorships lasted two years, during which he and the board solidified district finances, and enrollment grew significantly. Now it is Parnell’s duty to move the district forward.
That formidable challenge should be eased by Measure C funding and the knowledge that voters trust district leaders, teachers and staff to do right by their tax monies.