Candidates for Cuesta Board of Trustees say accreditation is key issue

acornejo@thetribunenews.comOctober 4, 2012 

Better preparing students to enter the workforce and repairing accreditation are key issues for the two candidates running for the Cuesta College Board of Trustees.

Two of three seats on the board up for grabs in November are unopposed and will be filled by incumbents: Angela Mitchell and Gaye Galvan.

Two candidates are vying for the remaining seat.

Barbara George, former executive director of the Cuesta College Foundation, and David Baldwin, a business agent for the Cement Masons, are seeking the single contested seat to replace Per Mathiesen, who has served on the board for 16 years.

Both candidates acknowledged that the dire budget at the community college resulting from state budget shortfalls has put an increased pressure on the college.

“Programs continue to be squeezed,” said Baldwin, adding that he planned to use experience as a trustee for two union pension funds to help building stronger partnerships on and off campus.

“Cuesta’s mission calls for it to forge community partnerships,” said Baldwin. “That is something that Cuesta can do better.”

George said she believes that Cuesta College has an “excellent” career technical program now but more could be done to draw additional money to the college for such programs.

“I will work with legislators to make sure that our community colleges are the ones training the future workforce,” George said. “Thousands of workers are being imported into this country and we need to be training workers here.”

George said working with local employers to train people for the workforce is an integral role of the community college.

The election comes as Cuesta College faces unprecedented struggles related to its accreditation, which it has been striving to retain since 2009, when it received an initial warning by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that it was not meeting the required standards.

George said the “perfect storm” led to the college’s struggle as a flux in leadership, a failed bond measure and a set of new accrediting standards fell out of focus.

“There are procedures and processes in place now,” said George, who added that staying informed would be the best way to avoid similar trouble in the future.

Baldwin said a failure in leadership has led to the college’s struggles with accreditation.

“Cuesta needs leadership,” said Baldwin. “Their leadership has failed. My role as a trustee will be to hold management accountable and see to it that the college doesn’t end up in a repeat situation.”

Both candidates support Proposition 30, a temporary measure on the November ballot that would increase sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next four years, and would raise income tax for Californians earning more than $250,000 annually for seven years.

Schools and colleges across California stand to lose an additional $6 billion in cuts this year if voters reject the increases. It would mean a nearly $3 million cut to Cuesta College.

In addition, both candidates said they would support a local bond measure to help Cuesta’s ailing budget — just not now.

In April, Cuesta trustees approved a plan that cut $3 million to balance the college's 2012-13 budget — eliminating 26 positions and laying off 16 people.

The Board of Trustees considered putting a bond measure on the November ballot to help repair aging buildings and failing technology and pay down outstanding debt but decided against it.

“It’s not on the menu right now for me,” said Baldwin. “Accreditation needs to be the number one focus.”

The college is now in the final stage of sanction: It must fix the identified problems this year, or it will lose its accreditation and face closure.

An accreditation team will visit Cuesta College on Oct. 29-30 to determine if the college has met the requirements.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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