BY RACHAEL GRAY
Two new candidates will throw their hats into the ring in April when they run for election to local school boards.
Antonio Espino will contest incumbents Lara Bors, Gloria Hopkins and Jean Clifford, board president, for a spot on USD 457's Board of Education.
Harold Orosco, who has run for the USD 457 board before and lost, will be up against incumbents Dr. William Clifford, Merilyn Douglass and Ron Schwartz for seats on the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees. All three incumbents have filed for re-election.
Orosco said he is ready to turn the community college into a university.
"I think it has merit ... My mother, brother and sister graduated from the community college. You would think it would one day turn into a university," he said.
Orosco said he has researched the steps to turn the college into a university.
"There's a list of 10 hurdles I have researched," he said. "You don't do it in five years. It's something you don't do in five years. The last hurdle is getting the governor's signature."
Orosco said the biggest issue in education is the cost of tuition.
The cost of a credit hour at GCCC is $50 in tuition and $27 in student fees for in-state students; $65 and $27 for border state tuition, which includes Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. For out-of-state students, tuition is $70 per credit hour, with $27 student fees and $90 per credit hour in tuition, and $27 for student fees for international students, according to the GCCC website.
Schwartz said he is running again because he likes where the college is headed.
"I like what Dr. Swender is doing and the direction that he is wanting to go," he said. "Funding is always going to be an issue, and with my involvement with our State Community College Association, I believe our association is as strong now as it has ever been.
"We are being heard in Topeka a lot more, speaking as 19 community colleges working together and all striving for one thing rather than 19 going all different directions. By working together, it allows us to provide classes that independently we would not be able to afford to offer."
Funding is a huge issue right now in education, Schwartz said.
"One of the biggest issues in secondary education today is the cost," he said. "We, as a community college, can provide a much more affordable start to the student wanting to continue on to acquiring their degree in the arts, or the sciences, or whatever field they may choose. We can also provide technical training for entry-level positions in the workforce and also continue providing training all the way through to CEOs."
He also said the college is getting better at recognizing certificates provided for certain training.
"As long as the training is done by certified instructors at an approved institution, that certificate of completion should be recognized and accepted everywhere," he said. "Our mission is to provide positive contributions to the economic and social well-being of society. I truly believe we accomplish that mission."
Douglass said she is excited to continue the Board work that supports the progressive vision that Herbert Swender, president, and te administration have planned for GCCC. She said the biggest issue lately has been a secure and healthy campus.
"We need to continue evaluating the safety of our campus. We need to anticipate and proactively plan for disasters. Make sure students feel safe. Second issue is quality education. Students will receive top-notch education at GCCC. We will continue to improve our programs and respond to the needs of our communities," she said.
Dr. William Clifford is seeking his fourth term on the board.
"I just feel like we're in the position to make a huge impact. We have hired an energetic president. Our board works well together. It's going to be a pivotal time given budget constraints and ongoing needs of job training and educating citizens," he said.
Clifford said it's important to provide access to the college.
"We're a school that doesn't refuse anyone that shows up-- whether it's an immigrant or someone seeking higher degrees. Everyone has financial limits, or background limits or geographical limits if they're locked into to southwest Kansas. We have to ensure everyone has access. The four-year regent schools have different standards. They can turn people away and charge huge amounts for tuition. We have to keep education affordable in southwest Kansas. That's something I think we've done a good job of," he said.
Dr. William Clifford also brings governance knowledge to the board. He is part of the International Policy Governance Association.
"I've spent a lot of time learning the governance system at the college. I really understand it and that puts me in a good position to represent the owners--the Finney County taxpayers," he said.
Espino, who faces Bors, Jean Clifford and Hopkins in the USD 457 race, said he wants to be on the school board to enhance education.
"I can see that when kids graduate high school, they don't have many opportunities in the job market because of lack of skills. They are not excelling in critical areas like math and science," he said.
Espino said he also would like to see the district recruit more teachers in the area and train them.
"They can motivate them with incentives," he said.
Espino, the father of a 17-year-old junior at Garden City High School, said he would like to see discipline handled differently.
"I would like to see parents more involved in decision-making and students more involved, too. That's my personal opinion," he said.
Jean Clifford, board president, said she decided to run for a second term because she enjoyed her first term.
"I think it's a pretty critical time in education," she said. "I've really been exposed to a number of issues in the past few years. So I'd like to continue to be on the board."
Clifford said the biggest issue in education is funding.
"Right now in our state, it's funding. It's the huge issue. It's a very difficult one. I'm hoping that things will kind of turn around and we'll start in the other direction. But right now, we keep getting cut," she said.
Hopkins said she wants to run again because the position is rewarding.
"I feel like my time is valued, and I think that I feel like I'm making a difference in my community. It's just a good way to volunteer," she said.
Hopkins also said funding is the top issue in education today.
"It's funding — from the state primarily," she said. "Our goal is to keep the local tax burden as low as we can. To do that, the state needs to fund us to the point where we can function as a business."
Bors said there's more work to do.
"I have had the honor to serve for only two years," she said. "In that short amount of time, I believe there is much work left to be done, especially with the uncertainty of school finance. When I campaigned in the last election, I told my boys that I wanted to serve on the USD 457 Board of Education to make sure they had the best education possible. That is the same reason why I am campaigning again — to ensure all students in USD 457 have the best possible education."
Bors agreed that funding is the primary concern for education.
"Last week, my first-grader told me to take my purse to the school because we need to build up the school. I asked him if there was something in particular at his school that was needed. 'No,' he said, 'We need more money for all of the schools.'"
"Without the proper financing, we cannot provide proper education," Bors said. "We are at a crossroads, and while we need to be fiscally conservative in our choices, we cannot mortgage our future by not properly financing the education of the younger generations."
In Holcomb USD 363, incumbent board members Mary Ann Bennett, position 5, and Matthew Jones, position 6, have filed for re-election. Gayla Lohfink, who holds position 4, will not be running for re-election. No one has filed for that position, according to the Finney County clerk's office.