Trustees fail to understand ‘community’

A June 12 opinion column in the Fresno Bee written by State Center Community College District (SCCCD) trustees Miguel A. Arias and John Z. Leal entitled “A blueprint for our community colleges,” while well-intended, lacks in historical perspective and important facts.

In a nutshell, trustees Arias and Leal appear to argue that the proceeds from a potential bond issue under consideration by the SCCCD Board of Trustees for voter consideration sometime in 2016 should be spent exclusively in urban Fresno. Possibly these two trustees (from a total of seven district-wide) are not familiar with the distant boundaries and numerous communities which make up our State Center “Community” College District.

Established in 1965, SCCCD and community colleges throughout California changed their generic title from junior college to community college to better define one of the major missions of the system, i.e. to better serve the educational and workforce training needs of their communities. However, for a number of years following the creation of the district, SCCCD consisted of only two campuses: Fresno City College (FCC) and Reedley College.

That translated into years of property taxes paid by other communities without adequate and accessible educational services. The lack of attention and services to other communities, especially in the rapidly growing northern areas of the district, ended in the late 1990s when campuses were established in Madera and Oakhurst. This was followed in the 2000s with the establishment of the Clovis campus.

Clovis and Madera have been the fastest growing of our district campuses, reflecting the growth pace of these communities. Therefore, while substantial resources must be allocated to refurbish facilities at FCC and upgrade the antiquated FCC Career & Technology Center in south Fresno, the board must also consider the needs of Reedley College, and that the newer campus communities in Madera County and Clovis are long overdue for an equitable allocation of resources.

Fresno City College is and will always remain the “Flag Ship” of our district offering technically skilled training and certifications, along with transfer credits to four-year institutions, the highly accredited Register Nursing program, public safety academics, and more.

For decades Reedley College, my alma mater, has positively served the smaller communities of southeast Fresno County and Dinuba and provided highly acclaimed programs in agriculture, forestry, dental hygiene and aerodynamics along with traditional transfer programs. Contrary to what appears to be the position of these two trustees, Reedley College and the northern campuses are also in need of either major revamping of existing facilities and/or facility and program expansions.

In addition, the newer campus sites (Clovis/Madera) have the room to grow and expand the necessary academic and technical facilities that are the most pressing needs for the rapidly growing populations of Madera County and both northeast and northwest Fresno County. While we certainly cannot provide a “brick and mortar” campus in every town, the current campus sites are strategically placed throughout the district to provide accessibility and a short commute from “home to class” for most.

Let me remind these gentlemen of the wide-spread “communities” of Madera, Clovis, Oakhurst, Reedley, Sanger, Kerman, Dinuba and the many other cities and towns served by our State Center Community College District.

The comments of these trustees also fail to acknowledge the substantial groundwork that district staff and previous trustees have accomplished in establishing a “blueprint” that they are claiming needs to be developed. To note:

· A District-wide Facilities Master Plan was approved by the board, September 2012.

· In the recent pass extensive community wide surveys conducted by an independent contractor for SCCCD, the services and performance of SCCCD had a 86.5% favorable community rating.

· 76.8% felt that SCCCD needed more funding.

· Surveys indicated that 61% said they would vote “yes” for a SCCCD Bond (55% is needed to pass).

These are important points to stress because the tone of the Arias/Leal column implied that the necessary groundwork in preparing to go public with more information for a SCCCD Bond had not been done. This is simply not the case. The preliminary work has been researched. It is now time for the board of trustees to come together and make important decisions for the future of the entire district.

In September, Interim Chancellor Bill Stewart and staff are preparing to go forward to the board with recommendations regarding the most urgent building needs for the next decade. The consideration will be somewhere between a $450 to $600 million bond issuance. If the board of trustees possesses the wisdom and fortitude to go forward, the measure should be on a ballot in 2016.

Without the services and leadership of Dr. Stewart, SCCCD would be even further behind in addressing these critical facility needs. He has quickly brought the district and community up to speed. It is now time for the SCCCD Board of Trustees to come together and address the “community” needs of SCCCD and put forth a bond issuance consideration that is fair, sensible and benefits the entire district.

NOTE: Ron Manfredi served SCCCD as an elected trustee for four terms (1985 to 2002) and later nine years on the SCCCD personnel commission, six as chairperson. He is a retired city manager.