Finances dominate San Mateo Community College District board race

The hot topic in the San Mateo Community College District election is how a district that has slashed funding and lost $20 million in annual state funding will accommodate the record numbers of students trying to enroll.

As tuitions rise and more unemployed people seek job training, the district has been forced to turn students away.

Incumbent board members and their challengers both agree that course offerings need to be expanded, yet the challengers ask where officials’ priorities lie.

Click the picture for a gallery of the candidates.

On Tuesday, voters will not only chose three of six candidates to serve on the board, but also decide whether to pass the third bond measure in 10 years.

Candidate Joe Ross, who runs a nonprofit that helps kids attend college, openly supports Measure H, yet said the district has spent too much on construction and not enough on students.

“When you look at brand-new parking lots and beautiful administrative buildings, I’m not sure what the connection is to students,” Ross said.

If elected, Ross said, he would spend as much Measure H money as possible to raise the share of full-time teachers beyond 25 percent and to provide more college counseling to students.

Spending bond money on school operations is tricky, because legally, the $564 million measure can only be used for construction and infrastructure projects. Yet there are ways to use bond money for operations, said incumbent David Mandelkern.

Not only did the district pass a new parcel tax for school operations, but by investing in green building and artificial turf it was able to reduce utility expenses by 56 percent, freeing up a couple of million dollars a year for salary increases and student programs, Mandelkern said.

Mandelkern, who is running for a third term, said some Measure H money would be spent on solar panels, wind turbines and cogeneration facilities, thereby freeing up even more money for operations.

“No one’s making profits off of this,” Mandelkern said.

But candidate Michael Stogner, a self-described “voice for the taxpayers,” begs to differ.

Stogner, who opposes the measure, said the $341,000 spent promoting Measure H came mostly from builders and developers. He said a voter survey, which officials cite as proof that Measure H has widespread public support, failed to clarify how much the district actually needed.

Rather than tearing down structures that are 40 years old, Stogner said, the district should be hiring teachers and offering more classes.

Sixteen-year incumbent Karen Schwarz has mixed feelings about Measure H, but said without it, numerous renovations would have to wait or be paid for out of operational funding. She said the economy has brought on some of the worst times she’s witnessed for the district, but defended the decisions to cut programs such as horticulture, saying they were among the college’s most underused.

Incumbent Patricia Miljanich said she was unavailable due to a family emergency. Candidate Jamie Diaz could not be reached for comment.

San Mateo Community College District candidates

Dave Mandelkern

  • Occupation: Entrepreneur
  • War chest: $30,000
  • Endorsements: Rep. Jackie Speier; State Sen. Joe Simitian; State Assemblyman Jerry Hill; State Assemblyman Rich Gordon

Karen Schwarz

  • Occupation: Family-owned painting contractor business
  • War chest: $10,000
  • Endorsements: Rep. Jackie Speier; State Sen. Joe Simitian, San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier; San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom

Joe Ross

  • Occupation: Educational non-profit director
  • War chest: Unavailable
  • Endorsements:  Educate Our State Co-founder Crystal Brown; State Assemblyman Rich Gordon; County Board of Education Member Ted Lempert; San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine

Michael Stogner

  • Occupation: Victim’s advocate
  • War chest: $0
  • Endorsements: None

Candidates Jamie Diaz and Patricia Miljanich were unavailable.

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