Five candidates — three incumbents and two challengers — are vying for three available seats on the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees.
Incumbents Merilynn Douglass, Melvin Neufeld and Dr. Blake Wasinger will be on the Nov. 7 ballot, as well as challengers Leonard Hitz and David Rupp.
Douglass, a 59-year-old nurse practitioner, has been serving on the board since 2005. She and her husband, Steve, have five children and 11 grandchildren.
Hitz, a 75-year-old retiree, serves on the Holcomb/Garden City/Finney County Area Planning Commission and the Finney County Zoning Board of Appeals. He also served more than 25 years on the board for GCCC's Broncbuster Athletic Association. He and his wife, Nancy, have four daughters and seven grandchildren.
Neufeld, a 77-year-old retired farmer, was appointed to the Board of Trustees in March 2015. He is a former Kansas Speaker of the House and served 24 years in the Kansas House of Representatives, and also was chairman of the Kansas Human Rights Commission. He and his wife, Maxine; have a daughter, Sharla Smith, and son, the late Kevin Neufeld, as well as five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
60-year old Rupp, is a retired GCCC criminal justice instructor. He worked for the Garden City Police Department from 1978 to 2001 and previously served four years on the board of Garden City’s Local Housing Authority Committee. Rupp is married with three children, two sons and a daughter.
Wasinger, 32, was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2016 to fill the term of the late Ron Schwartz. Wasinger is the current president of the Finney County United Way Board of Directors. He is a practicing chiropractor. He and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Maddison, 6, and Matthew, 2.
The top three vote-getters on will win the available seats on the board.
The Telegram sent each of the candidates a questionnaire asking their thoughts on various issues pertaining to GCCC, which Douglass, Hitz, Neufeld and Wasinger returned. Here's what they had to say:
What are the most urgent facility needs for GCCC?
Douglass: GCCC is at capacity for student housing and the older dorms/apartments are in need of replacement. If our student growth continues, we will need to replace the oldest residential unit and increase the size/capacity of the kitchen/cafeteria.
Hitz: I don’t foresee any immediate need for building any new facilities. I would say maintaining the facilities that we have would be the priority. We seem to have been in a rather aggressive mode for building and acquisition of property for the past four or five years. … Before I would be in favor of any new building, I would want to know why we need to build more, what programs they would support, and what the long-term plan is for that facility.
Neufeld: We must plan ahead both to provide needed student housing, classroom and vocational space, as well as keeping up with maintenance needs. … I believe we should plan for the replacement of the oldest dorms on campus due to the cost of maintaining them. As the enrollment continues to grow, additional dorms and cafeteria space will be needed. We also need to look at new rodeo facilities for several reasons, one being the recent outbreak of a fatal horse disease near our current facility and another the need for a rodeo facility that could host both college and high school rodeos.
Wasinger: I think what is most pressing is addressing the need for larger dining and kitchen facilities. We are currently at our max at our current cafeteria. There are currently schedules for running students through so that it doesn’t cause too many problems.
Rupp: There are several needs that need to be looked at. One is the infrastructure due to the increase of students such as food services and possibly more student housing. Another need is more classroom space, as some of the programs grow, so does the need for classrooms.
Any programs at GCCC that you would like to see grow or change? Added or eliminated?
Douglass: As a board, we rely on the college president and administration who are charged with program review. That review takes into account the program’s enrollment, balance of revenue and expenses and the community’s need for that particular program. Recommendations for new programs come from assessment and research of the community’s needs, the trends in industry and business and resources available to accommodate a program. As a board, we support this analysis of need and resource as presented by administration and then vote on the proposal. The board, as a whole, will listen to community input for program needs and strive to offer the basic and specific educational programs and skills to meet those needs. GCCC is expanding their online education offerings, and I strongly support that avenue of education/learning.
Hitz: I think there is always room for improvement in the quality of any program, keeping up with any new innovations. For example, what new innovations are being used in the school of fire science. When a student graduates from any of the programs we provide, I want them to be trained to be the best in that field. … One area that I think we should consider is in the field of medicine — for example, dental hygienics. How can we best prepare the younger generation entering the field of agriculture? Computer technology? GPS? Drones? Weather maps? Ground water management?
Neufeld: Nearly 38 percent of the 2017 high school graduates in our service area are taking classes at GCCC this fall. While this is a better percentage than previous years, I believe we should set a goal of over 40 percent for next year. Only by increased participation in education will we be able to meet the workforce requirements of our area. Given the number of students from families that have no college experience, we should work to increase the concurrent enrollment in the area high schools. By having these students take college classes that are counted toward their high school credits, we can encourage them to go on to college by letting them prove they can be successful in college classes.
Wasinger: I would like to keep seeing the band program/music program expand — a great program that was recently brought back that I feel really increases the college experience. I feel we are just starting to tap into our online presence, and would like to see that continue to grow. I would like to increase emphasis on cyber security, as well.
Rupp: I would have to see what surveys have been taken and see if there is enough interest in the communities that we serve to give a better answer. As for my experience as an instructor at the college the past 10 years, I haven’t noticed any program that needs to be cut.
What would you do to ensure that the college produces the skilled workers needed in our community?
Douglass: Communication with the community and region has always been challenging. Currently, advisory boards of industry/business owners/professionals provide the faculty and administration the information about current workforce needs and trends. As a trustee, I would like us to do a better job at communicating with the community. As a board, we can review and revise our expectations in this area, charge administration to develop methods and show improvement in communications and therefore, be responsive to the workforce needs of our region.
Hitz: It is my hope that we will be thought of as the best in the industry. I would consider any new innovation that would help us achieve that goal. But, we should be astute in evaluating any recommendation and consider the costs weighed against the benefits and anticipated results.
Neufeld: GCCC must remain a progressive, adaptable vocational-technical program that can quickly meet the needs for workforce demands in southwest Kansas. This means that the college must maintain close relationship with employers and possible new industries. I am hearing from the construction industry that we have a shortage of skilled workers in the various trades, and I will work with the industry to determine what GCCC needs to do to help provide the necessary workers.
Wasinger: Keeping our presence out in the community and understanding what the community needs. We have to be a bit fluid and foresee what is needed. Our best source is partnering with local agencies like Economic Development, the Chamber and other local businesses and industries.
Rupp: I know that as a technical program, most of the programs have to have an advisory board that includes members of that discipline. I would review the notes from those meetings to see how many partners are attending and look for new methods to get them involved. Secondly, I would hope that the college as a whole is reaching out to the communities that they serve and surveying them on their needs.
In July, the college was placed on probation by the Higher Learning Commission after being found deficient in six of 24 areas. What will you do to ensure that the college improves on these deficiencies and maintains accreditation?
Douglass: The deficiencies have nothing to do with the quality of education at GCCC. The deficiencies are about documentation of meeting expectations. The board expects the president and administration to do their jobs to correct the deficiencies; they have a plan to report their progress of compliance with the expectations at regular intervals at board meetings and through policy governance monitoring.
Hitz: I would request nothing less than monthly updates on the progress toward correcting each of the six areas found deficient. First, I would need to know why we were found deficient. Then, I would want a timeline with specific goals for correcting the deficiencies and what actions are being taken to correct the deficiencies. As I understand, this problem has been going on for five or six years. I would think it should have been dealt with immediately. Education is all we have to sell, and if it is not accredited, we have nothing to sell.
Neufeld: While it was disappointing to have the Higher Learning Commission place GCCC on probation, it is important to know that none of these deficiencies have any effect on the students’ education or their ability to transfer credits to other institutions. The six deficiencies were all process items that have to do with the structure of the college administration. The bottom line from my standpoint seems to be that the surveyors want GCCC to have more administrators to do additional paperwork. I believe GCCC will meet these paperwork requirements and will maintain our accreditation with HLC. The Board of Trustees has instructed the administration to make a monthly report of progress to compliance.
Wasinger: Keeping the reporting and updates periodically I feel is sufficient. It is my understanding that many of the items are already corrected or about corrected. Other items will take time, but monthly updates along with follow-up site visits will ensure we are removed from probation.
Rupp: This is a hard question to answer, as I do not know exactly what issues the HLC addressed. However, I would want monthly reports on what is being done to address the issues.
What would your budget priorities be?
Douglass: To maintain the college’s excellent financial status, continue to pay down debt, expand opportunities without overextending our capitol and resources.
Hitz: No additional increase in taxes. Are we being efficient with the money we are spending?
Neufeld: I would like to thank President Dr. Herb Swender, the administration, faculty and staff for working together to not only make GCCC the best community college in the state but doing it in a fiscally responsible way. Because of their efforts, the current budget for operations is $100,000 less than the previous year. Without their dedication and hard work, the trustees would not have been able to maintain a zero increase in our property tax while meeting the needs of our area. I pledge to continue to work together with them, the trustees and the community to maximize the limited resources to improve and grow your college.
Wasinger: I feel we already are prudent as trustees. I would strive to continue to keep us from raising the mill levy, continue to keep enrollment up, maintaining affordable but adequate tuition rates. We have maintained our reserve while addressing needs like parking lots, roofs, etc. As part of the community, a business owner, I take it as a personal responsibility to utilize taxpayers’ money to the fullest without squandering it.
Rupp: If elected, I would be reviewing the financial information given to me to ensure that the college is being as efficient as possible. As for any budget priorities, it is hard to say what would be ranked above something else as priorities change monthly in any business. I would want the requests for funds to also have a justification with it.
What motivated you to run, and do you have a particular issue or platform that you are campaigning on?
Douglass: GCCC is such an invaluable asset to our community. I take it very seriously that we need to support and grow the college because of its contributions to our economy and our society’s future well-being. Being a trustee is how I can make a meaningful contribution to support the college. I will work to improve avenues of communication between the board and the community. I want citizens to feel welcome to express their opinions, to ask questions and learn about all that GCCC has to offer.
Hitz: Since moving here 41 years ago, Garden City Community College has been a big part of my life. I have always been a Broncbuster. I’ve been supportive of all educational programs at the college. I believe in democracy, and if people don’t run, it is not a democracy. If we keep electing the same incumbents, you never have any new thoughts and ideas. Then you find you are stuck in a rut. Since I moved here, I have been told “No one really cares about the community college.” … I would like to see us give the community more reason to care.
Neufeld: It has been my honor to serve you as a trustee of your college. ... There have been many advancements in the last few years that I have had the privilege to be part of … the championship meats team, your cheerleading squad, the academic challenge team, the criminal justice program, the Buster Band, John Deere (Silver Industry Excellence) and the NJCAA national football championship team. Quality administrators, faculty, staff and students make GCCC a source of pride for the community. I ask that you would allow me to continue to serve you and the Garden City area as a member of your Board of Trustees.
Wasinger: I don’t have a particular platform or issue. I want to simply be a voice for my generation. I want to be more involved within my community. I have been actively involved since coming to Garden City in 2011. I believe it is extremely important to be an active citizen. Seeing positive change within the community is extremely rewarding. I want to see the community that my children will grow up in to be a thriving, safe place to live.
Rupp: I have considered running in the past, however due to the fact I was employed by the college as an instructor, I could not because it against Kansas Law. So when I had the opportunity to retire, then I could campaign... I do not have any specific platform that I am running on; I just want to continue to make Garden City Community College one of the premiere colleges in the state.