Candidates share optimism

3/29/2013

Candidates share optimism

Candidates share optimism

Douglass, Orosco, Schwartz participate in Trustees forum.

By RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

Candidates for the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees Thursday night shared their views on state funding, programs and curriculums and the future direction of the college.

Three out of the four candidates were on hand for a public forum broadcast live at the City Administrative Building. Incumbents Ron Schwartz and Merilyn Douglass and challenger Harold Orosco discussed their views. Incumbent candidate Dr. William Clifford was out of the country and unable to attend.

During the public forum, the three discussed how budget cuts at the state level would affect the college.

Douglass said it's a question everyone looks at. She said the college's administration keeps abreast of what's going on with the state budget and that it would help look for alternative ways of funding.

"I would do things such as look for other sources of revenue such as grant opportunities to fund some other programs," she said.

She said she also wants to keep the community involved and check with residents for ideas.

"It's a tough situation, but there are viable answers," she said.

Orosco said it's all about marketing the college to the public.

"I do agree with Merilyn that we can find additional funds," he said.

Schwartz said he plans to continue to educate lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and Topeka on the situation of public education is today.

He said 40 percent of legislators in Kansas are new and need to hear from educators on how state and community colleges impact the economy. Schwartz said the college is a vital part of the community, and that community colleges provide 70 percent of the technical training in Kansas.

When asked how they, as members of the board of trustees, would continue to support programs with possibly less funding, the candidates said they would face that challenge.

Orosco said he would look to the leadership of Herbert Swender, GCCC president, to decide how to proceed.

"That is going to come from the administration," he said.

Schwartz said GCCC is pretty fortunate in that the school's budget is less than 15 percent state-funded. Most aren't so fortunate.

"Most community colleges have 30-40 percent of their budget coming from the state," he said.

Schwartz said the college has reserves, but at that percent the school shouldn't have to dip into them or adjust the mill levy.

Douglass said board members have discussed the budget at length in planning sessions and meetings and are ready for what comes next.

She said she is optimistic, since the biggest chunk of the budget doesn't come from the state, and feels there are still areas that can be trimmed.

When asked about the importance of the college forging partnerships with local businesses, the candidates said it's hard to know what is next as far as industry in southwest Kansas.

Schwartz said the best thing the college can do is to get the word out that GCCC can offer job training.

Douglass encourages combining resources with other southwest Kansas schools to make education in the area as comprehensive as possible.

Orosco said partnerships are important, but he cautions on what types of businesses to bring in.

As far as land acquisitions go, Douglass supports purchasing land adjacent to the college.

"When you think of expanding programs, you think of expanding infrastructure. We may need more buildings for programs, more housing for students," she said.

Orosco said there's nothing wrong with buying land if the college is going to grow. In the future, he would like to see the college grow into the University of Western Kansas.

Schwartz said it only makes sense to purchase adjacent property — as was done when the college purchased the former Outwest building to house the Adult Learning Center. The college also purchased the old skating rink, which will one day house the cosmetology program, he said.

All three said GCCC is vital to the local workforce.

Orosco said it's critical — as some students graduate college and don't have a job.

Schwartz said although he doesn't know what industries will come to Garden City, it's important to work on agriculture programs as well as have flexibility with what will come to the area.

"We can provide the type of training they need for that job," he said.

Douglass said it's about marketing and getting people to work. She said the college provides training and certificates for many technical jobs.

"I think we, as the college, could do a better job of finding that pool of people that could become the workforce here," she said.

In closing, Schwartz wanted to add that GCCC is forging partnerships with other colleges in the state to make sure classes are transferrable. He said he will continue to work on those partnerships.

Douglass said the best part of being a trustee is shaking the hands of students who walk across the stage on graduation day.

Orosco said there are great things happening in Garden City and western Kansas — and that a university would add to that.

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