The 2020 elections will bring new faces to the San Mateo Community College Board of Trustees. While the Area 1 race is now uncontested, in Area 5, three candidates vie to represent Redwood City, East Palo Alto and part of Menlo Park.
In San Mateo County, there are three seats up for the county's Community College District board, one each for areas 1, 3 and 5. The community college district oversees Skyline and Cañada community colleges and the College of San Mateo. The district is in the process of switching to a by-district election system from an at-large one, meaning candidates must live in one of the trustee areas up for election to be eligible.
While the Area 3 race, covering the territory from Hillsborough to southern South San Francisco, pits two incumbents against each other – Dave Mandelkern and Maurice Goodman – the seats for both Areas 1 and 5, include the communities covered by The Almanac, are not currently occupied by an incumbent.
Area 1 includes the San Mateo County coastside, Woodside, Portola Valley, Atherton, unincorporated West Menlo Park and the city of Menlo Park up to El Camino Real. Lisa Petrides is the only candidate running for the seat.
Area 5 covers the remainder of Menlo Park northeast of El Camino Real, as well as East Palo Alto and Redwood City and has three candidates running: Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, Blair Whitney and John Pimentel.
Karen Schwarz, the current board president and a Redwood City resident, said in an email that she is not planning to run for reelection to represent Area 5 because she has served for six terms and is ready to move on to other endeavors. "It will be extremely important to have a board of trustees who can work together with the chancellor and staff to keep moving forward and keep in place the positive structure that has kept the district solvent all these years," she wrote.
As she steps back after 24 years on the board, she said, the district is facing a number of challenges: staying financially solvent, keeping students and employees safe from COVID-19, helping students in need with food, housing, Internet and jobs, and providing the best education possible.
Beyond those, the district faces its own governance challenges – its former chancellor, Ron Galatolo, is being investigated by the county District Attorney's Office, potentially in relation to the management of school district finances and harassment, according to local news outlets the Palo Alto Daily Post and the San Mateo Daily Journal.
In Area 1, there is only one candidate actively running for the seat: Lisa Petrides, a nonprofit CEO and educator. Eugene Whitlock, a former employee at the community college district, announced on Sept. 21 that he would be dropping out of the race. However, his name still appears on the ballot, with the ballot designation of equity/inclusion educator.
Whitlock was previously the vice chancellor, human resources and general counsel for the community college district, and currently works as assistant vice chancellor at U.C. Berkeley.
According to a settlement agreement obtained through a public records request, the district board voted unanimously to terminate Whitlock's employment in April last year. According to the agreement, the district paid Whitlock $2.28 million and stipulated that Whitlock not have any further contact with the district, nor access the district's property without written permission from the district's legal counsel for five years.
"I do not want my candidacy – or presence on the board – to be a distraction from the issues that we need to focus on to improve our colleges," he said in an email to local reporters announcing his withdrawal from the race.
Lisa Petrides, 59, is the founder and CEO of ISKME, an education nonprofit that, among other initiatives, has assembled digital libraries that has expanded access to free textbooks and educational materials for many. She has lived in the district for 20 years and holds a Ph.D. in education policy from Stanford University, an MBA from Sonoma State and a Bachelor's of Sciences degree from U.C. Berkeley. Her campaign website is lisapetrides.org.
A first-time candidate for public office, Petrides is founder and CEO of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), an education nonprofit based in Half Moon Bay that conducts research, promotes the sharing of educational resources and hosts workshops and trainings, according to its website. Before that, Petrides was on the faculty at Teachers College at Columbia University.
The top three problems for the district are safety, security and faculty workload, she said. The district should respond to and support students in need, such as those who experience homelessness or food or housing insecurity. It should also provide a quality education that is safe and accessible by managing problems related to remote and online learning, the digital divide and support services.
"Continuing to educate in a safe and accessible manner is costly given that students are facing an all-time high in terms of lack of access to Wi-Fi, technology, food, housing, and the loss of jobs impacting themselves and their families," she wrote.
Among her endorsers are Congresswoman Jackie Speier, state Sen. Jerry Hill, state Assemblyman Marc Berman and county supervisors Dave Pine, Don Horsley and Warren Slocum.
Petrides has reported her campaign has received a total of $36,828 in support, including a personal loan of $1,600, as of Oct. 7. She had spent $26,300 as of the last deadline to file campaign paperwork, Sept. 24.
Top contributors include the California Federation of Teachers Small Contributor Committee ($10,000) Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder ($5,000), Mary Austin of San Francisco ($5,000) Christopher Mark and Jayne Battey of Miramar Farms ($1,000 each), Jason Goecke of Half Moon Bay, Brewster Kahle, a digital librarian from San Francisco ($1,000) , Denise Phillips of Moss Beach ($1,000), Myra Strober of Stanford ($1,000) , Kathy Sherman of Los Altos Hills ($1,000) and Will Parish of San Francisco ($1,000).
In San Mateo County's Area 5, there are three candidates running: Lisa Hicks-Dumanske of Redwood City, Blair Whitney of North Fair Oaks and John Pimentel of Menlo Park.
Of the three candidates, Pimentel has poured the greatest amount of funding into his campaign, by far.
He reported that his campaign has received a total of $158,885 as of Oct. 5. Of that, $150,000 came from a personal loan. He had spent $123,416 on the campaign this year as of the most recent Sept. 24 deadline to submit campaign funding paperwork. Top contributors to his campaign are Thomas Stephenson of Atherton ($2,500), Steve Sherr of Foundation Windpower ($1,000), Charles Patton of Del Mar ($1,500) and Albert Pimentel of Los Gatos ($1,000).
In contrast, Hicks-Dumanske reported her campaign had received a total of $18,271, including a $2,000 personal loan.
Top contributors to her campaign include Sarah Blatner of Redwood City ($1,260) , Muriel Willey of Los Altos ($600), Thomas Bauer, vice chancellor of the district ($350), Burlingame City Councilwoman Donna Wills Colson ($250) and Redwood City councilwoman Diana Reddy ($200).
Whitney did not report any campaign fundraising activity.
Lisa Hicks-Dumanske, 59, is Executive Director of the Redwood City Library Foundation. She has lived in the district for 57 years and attended Cañada College, followed by San Francisco State University, where she holds a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology. A former community organizer and the first in her family to attend college, Hicks-Dumanske has also worked as associate director at CuriOdyssey and served on the Redwood City Library Board and other civic organizations. Her campaign website is hicksdumanske.com.
Candidate Lisa Hicks-Dumanske is running for the community college district because, she explained in response to a candidate survey from The Almanac, she knows what is at stake as someone who attended Cañada College and expanded her love for learning from her college experiences into a career in community organizing and leading nonprofits.
"My life was transformed by education, and I will work to make sure that other students can achieve their dreams, too," she said.
Hicks-Dumanske said she regularly attends board meetings and her top three issues in the district are to: ensure budget decisions prioritize student needs and avoid cuts to programs that help students graduate or certify; track funding and enrollment to expand program options, speed up program completions and help students transition to next steps; and provide vulnerable students with support for food, housing, transportation and digital access needs, and help them afford higher education.
When it came to the district's rapid rollout of remote learning during the past spring amid the pandemic outbreak, Hicks-Dumanske described the speed and overall success of the transition, but noted that moving forward, the district needs to intervene earlier to make sure students have the technology and connectivity they need – and should plan to do more than provide equipment and a safe place for quiet study, such as checking in with students sooner and coordinating with counseling staff. "The digital divide has never been so acute," she wrote.
Students of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, but many problems – like unemployment, food and housing insecurity, health problems and technological barriers – existed before the pandemic, she said. The district has a number of programs to help – it distributes food from Second Harvest Food Bank at two of the colleges, provides Safeway food cards to food-insecure students monthly, and has some programs at each campus to support student housing needs, she said.
While the pandemic was estimated to have a financial impact of $7 million to the district, she said, there are sufficient reserves so that budget cuts are not expected. "Prudent choices led us to this moment of a strong financial position and equally prudent choices will need to be made to ensure future fiscal solvency," she said.
Key endorsements include: state Sen. Jerry Hill, state Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, current board members Thomas Nuris and Karen Schwarz and county Supervisors Don Horsley and David Canepa.
Blair Whitney, 51, is a veteran and a site supervisor providing security at a tech campus. He lives in North Fair Oaks and holds a Bachelor's of Arts degree from San Jose State University and an MPA from Golden Gate University. He has lived in the district for eight years and is a member of the North Fair Oaks Community Council. He has chaired the Palo Alto VA Veterans and Family Advisory Council, and volunteered as a poll worker during elections and as a monthly food distributor at the Fair Oaks Community Center during the COVID-19 pandemic. He did not provide a campaign website.
Whitney said he is running for the seat because he is passionate about education and advocacy for inclusive campus facilities and services for Area 5. He attended the College of San Mateo and Canada College using veteran benefits from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He wants to expand access to the system beyond the three hilltop campuses into the community, potentially creating satellite campuses in more dense areas, the way Foothill College did for many years at Palo Alto's Cubberley Community Center.
The top three issues facing the district are COVID-19, management and governance failures, and the economy, he said.
The district should ensure that online classes retain transfer eligibility and the quality is not diminished, seeking out best practices in delivering online learning. While the county has a good property tax base, he said, the district should keep a close eye on enrollment numbers and expand where demand is greatest.
Whitney talked about the need in the biotech industry not for Ph.D.-level academics but for people who hold associate-level credentials in biology who can work as lab techs. "That's right where the community college system can really excel – partnering with some local industries identifying those gap areas where an associate's degree or certificate can get someone right into a well-paid job. As COVID and remote work shifts change the local economy, a lot of displaced service workers are feeling the pressure and the community college system could also be a great resource in helping folks re-brand or re-equip themselves for different opportunities," he said.
To help students who experience food and/or housing insecurity, he said, he'd like to have on-campus sign-ups with county workers to connect them with assistance. He said he also wanted to look into an ombudsman or student advocate role to expedite support for students in crisis due to problems like domestic violence, evictions or re-entry after incarceration. Peer mentors could support these efforts, and could facilitate peer support groups to deal with mental health, substance abuse recovery or other areas of need, he said.
He said he'd favor working to house students in mobile homes and trailers, or converting a commercial building into lofts or dorms for students. He's open to developing student housing on the College of San Mateo campus but added, "it might be easier to purchase and rehab an existing apartment building nearby than to build from scratch."
When it comes to the district's finances, he said, while the reserves are in good shape, "we need to see how the state budget and enrollment numbers look going forward and react based on that," he said.
John Pimentel, 54, is a renewable energy project developer and founder of Foundation Windpower, Sustainable Water Solutions, Panoche Valley Solar and Pacific Ethanol. He attended San Joaquin Delta Community College before earning a Bachelor's of Arts degree at U.C. Berkeley and a MBA from Harvard Business School. He has lived in the district for 15 years. He was recently appointed to Menlo Park's Housing Commission, has served on the boards of the Ravenswood Education Foundation, the San Joaquin Delta Community College Foundation, Ravenswood Little League and Redwood City Police Activities League, and has volunteered with local schools and youth sports teams. He previously worked as Deputy Secretary of Transportation in California and was a consultant at Bain & Company. His campaign website is johnpimentel.com.
John Pimentel, a Menlo Park resident, wants to make education tuition-free for those who need it within the community college district.
Before 1985, he said, community college was tuition-free in California. Today, he said, attending community college in San Mateo County can cost more than $15,000 per year when factoring in tuition, books, fees, parking and transportation costs, child care, rent and other living expenses.
He favors programs to run shuttles that can transport students without private vehicles to the remote community college campuses – which are otherwise difficult to access – as well as streamlining digital learning programs to make it faster to earn credits or certifications, and working with local employers to ensure that technical training provided is what employers are looking for. He also proposed a "Visiting Varsity" program that invites high school athletes, performers and competitors to use community college facilities and become familiar with them as a pathway to bolster recruitment.
Another key priority is transparency, he said. He proposed a number of ideas to expand transparency within the district, such as recording all meetings and making them public, avoiding no-bid, sole-source contracts, and appointing an "inspector general" position to independently report to the board.
While he commended the district's transition to online learning this spring, moving forward, he said, he wants to evaluate best practices for digital teaching, invest in computers and Wi-Fi hot spots needed for all students and faculty, and the district's on-campus parking lot Wi-Fi services to other areas near the Bay and coast so students don't have to commute to the campuses to access Wi-Fi.
Another area to explore is the police training provided within the district to ensure the police force is "developed in a way that is free of implicit bias and able to manage situations with nonviolent techniques," he said in a video on his campaign website.
He added that he believes the district's financial situation is overall good because it receives most of its general fund revenue from local property taxes, which are less volatile than the state's budget system, and the district's current reserve of $43 million is substantially higher than the 5% general fund reserve recommended by the state Community College Chancellor's Office.
"I believe reserves are meant to be jealously guarded for a rainy day," he said. But if the pandemic, wildfires, unemployment and more are "not enough rain ... then what is?" he added.
Pimentel noted that while some might see him as a privileged white man, he had a chaotic and violent upbringing, with parents who had mental health and alcoholism problems, two sisters who died by suicide, and a brother who, high on meth, killed his mother, among other painful family circumstances. He was working unloading trucks in a Stockton warehouse when he enrolled at Delta College, which changed his life, he said. "I feel obliged to make sure every resident of San Mateo County has the same shot I had."
Key endorsements include: current trustees Richard Holober and Dave Mandelkern, state Assemblyman Marc Berman, San Mateo County supervisors Warren Slocum, Don Horsley, David Canepa and Dave Pine, and county Board of Education members Ted Lempert, Rod Hsiao, Susan Alvaro and Joe Ross.