Community college officials called for swift action to assist school community members wrestling with the rising cost of living amidst the district developing a vision for building student housing.

The San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees urged administrators to flesh out programs offering immediate aid to those struggling to afford living locally while attending classes.

Concurrently, trustees expressed a desire during a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 25, to gather more information and expert perspective on the best path toward constructing housing for students.

But with an understanding that the yearslong process associated with developing housing will not meet the existing needs of students, officials requested establishment of short-term housing assistance as well.

“We need some action and our students deserve it,” said board President Maurice Goodman.

Under the direction from board members, administrators pledged a willingness to return in one month with a slate of programs which can be easily implemented to assist students facing housing insecurity.

One simple step identified was consolidating site-specific student housing information from each of the three campuses into a central portal of programs shared on the district’s website.

More broadly, Vice Chancellor Mitch Bailey said officials plan to return with a set of proposals designed to improve the quality of life for current students while also laying groundwork for more complex initiatives.

Among those larger efforts include forming a working group of district officials addressing student housing policy issues; establishing an advisory agency with outside organizations lending expertise on navigating the affordable housing ecosystem; and hiring a consultant charged with spearheading the initiative.

The programs are part of a district effort to help the rising number of students who are facing homelessness while attending classes, forcing hard choices which too often result in them eschewing education in favor of trying to make ends meet. To better understand the depth of the affordability problems, officials also agreed to assess the issue through a forthcoming study.

The nature of the discussion largely marked a departure from previous examinations under former chancellor Ron Galatolo, who favored building housing primarily accommodating international students with some subsidized units for others.

For additional perspective on the complexities of building student housing, officials invited to the meeting Armando Sanchez, executive director of the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust, as well as Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County.

While the nonprofit executives admitted the proposal for student housing is beyond their realm of expertise, Sanchez encouraged district officials to continue pursuing the initiative.

“If we don’t help them, I’m sad for what will happen to them in their future,” said Sanchez, regarding students who need assistance to afford housing.

Due to state regulations precluding tax credits from being used to finance student housing, Sanchez and Stivers said their agencies were restricted from financially contributing to the district’s efforts.

Yet despite the constraints of their relationship, Stivers expressed a desire to contribute to the effort she considered essential.

“We do want to be a partner and provide any resources we can,” she said.

To that end, Sanchez noted the school system has a head start in the effort to build housing because its owns a substantial amount of developable property — often the most difficult asset to obtain on the Peninsula.

For an example of how to capitalize on the resource, Sanchez also encouraged officials to examine the student housing development recently undertaken by Santa Rosa Junior College — a proposal enthusiastically received by officials.

Board Vice President Karen Schwarz requested officials take a field trip to Sonoma County and examine the project to gain a better perspective on how to replicate it locally.

“What we have is the land and students,” she said. “Where do we go from there?”

Recognizing the myriad questions and issues which must be worked through, officials said prompt action is required to build momentum on the issue paramount to so many members of the school community.

“We’ve done a lot of talking, but I’d like to see something done,” said Schwarz.

In other business, officials discussed potential amendments for the salary schedule to Galatolo’s eventual successor.

Prior to his abrupt departure before the beginning of the new school year, Galatolo earned $467,000 in annual baseline salary — or roughly $100,000 more annually than the average of most other local community college chancellors.

Galatolo amassed the sizable sum after nearly 20 years as the district’s top official, in advance of his exit last month. Galatolo has since been placed on administrative leave, and inspectors from the county District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation to his management of district finances.

While no decision was made regarding chancellor pay, Goodman said officials are looking to set a salary schedule appropriate for a new hire which is more comparable with other districts yet lucrative enough to draw a qualified pool of candidates.

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