The three schools comprising the San Mateo County Community College District should be more accessible, in terms transportation, cost and community presence, according to candidates running for the district Board of Trustees.
Three seats on the five-member board are up for election, and while incumbents Dave Mandelkern and Karen Schwarz will seek re-election, trustee Patricia Miljanich will not. Also running is nonprofit director Ramiro Maldonado, retired businessman Mark De Paula, educator Anthony Amistad, real estate executive Alan Talansky and Maurice Goodman, member of the South San Francisco Unified School District Board of Trustees.
The seven candidates are seeking voter support on an all-mail ballot due Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, to shape the policy guiding the College of San Mateo, Skyline College in San Bruno and Cañada College in Redwood City.
As a national debate continues over whether community college courses should be offered for free, ensuring the classes are affordable remains a premier concern facing students in San Mateo County, said Mandelkern.
“Increasing access is very important,” said Mandelkern, who said he supported the notion of free community college, but noted waiver options exist for financially challenged students to enroll at minimal or no fee.
Schwarz too said she favored the effort to make community college free, but said rather than wait on change to occur at the state or federal level, officials should enact local policy that ensured a community college education remains affordable.
She said she is focused on trying to keep the cost of books low for students, through use of material available online, as well as book rental and buyback programs, which can control a source of substantial expense to many students.
Those sentiments were echoed by Maldonado, who noted the struggle of many district students who balance their educational demands against professional and personal obligations as well.
As the local economy thrives though, and the cost of living continues to escalate, a degree from a community college needs to remain in reach of as many residents as possible, said Goodman, to help them become more attractive to potential employers.
“Having a community college education makes students more hirable,” Goodman said.
Building relationships between the district and local businesses through internships would work to further the opportunity for students to get a high-paying job immediately after attaining their degree, said Amistad.
Talansky too supported the notion of community outreach, and suggested that his connections to the local transportation industry might help improve the accessibility of the colleges to the rest of the community.
Talansky, who is an economic advisor to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said he favored improving shuttle programs from public transportation stations such as Caltrain, which would help students reach their campus, as well as reduce the overall cost of an education.
“I think we can we can get this done, and I think the cost will be minimal compared to what some people think it will be,” he said.
And though transportation issues for students were a concern of all candidates, De Paula focused on a different type of accessibility.
He said he wanted to ensure the district campuses were compliant under the American Disabilities Act, and safe as well as accessible, to avoid what he considered a potential threat of a lawsuit.
De Paula, who has recently taken classes at College of San Mateo, said the campus is not adequately designed to accommodate all students.
“CSM is done totally wrong in terms of accessibility,” he claimed.
Mandelkern disputed that claim, and noted that all district buildings were inspected and approved by the required agencies through the construction process.
Facilities have been a primary focus of the district in recent years, as hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money has been spent to construct new classrooms and buildings throughout the district.
District staff, students and officials should be proud of the new look and feel of the redesigned campuses, said Mandelkern.
“I’m unapologetic about the spending we’ve done on our students,” he said.
Goodman, who is a graduate of the district, concurred, and said the top-notch classrooms and educational spaces help serve as a source of pride among students.
Schwarz said officials should be commended for the way they have spent the bond money made available through voter support.
“I think we’ve done some wonderful jobs,” she said. “We’ve spent the money exactly the way we told the community we would.”
Amistad noted the high standard of living that many enjoy in San Mateo County, and said the buildings in the community college district are a reflection of resources made possible through the hard work of local residents.
“Our tax money has gone to very good use,” he said.
Talansky said the buildings help establish a sentiment among students that they are not second-class citizens, but instead are students in pursuit of a higher education which can make them more marketable in the competitive local job market.
The district is one of a few throughout the state that has been selected to offer four-year degrees in a technical fields, which is a tremendous asset for students, said Amistad.
But with such programs in place, the need for all county students to have access to the district is ratcheted up even further, said Maldonado.
He said officials should do more to ensure the district offers programs not just on the campuses, which are located in more remote regions of the county, but also among the underserved communities where the opportunity for social mobility through education is especially important.
Talansky said the district should offer more online classes, to help the district reach as many interested students as possible.
The district should also increase its collaboration with local elementary and high school districts to show young learners the path toward attaining a college degree, said Goodman, who cited the formation of a middle college program with the schools in South San Francisco as a successful example of those efforts.
Mandelkern agreed with the need for more outreach, and said officials have focused on ensuring more district facilities are open for public use.
“We try very hard to be good members of our community,” he said.
Schwarz noted the district had developed satellite campuses in communities such as San Bruno and Redwood City, in an attempt to broaden the reach of the district.
She there is still an ongoing effort by officials to advance the role the colleges play in the cities they serve, as well as throughout the county.
“We are trying to come down off the hill and be more accessible to the community,” she said.
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