Candidates running for three open seats on the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees sat in for a public forum Tuesday, discussing, among other topics, the college’s funding, programs and need to rebuild trust with its stakeholders.
On Nov. 5, Finney County residents will consider six candidates for the seats vacated by current board members Steve Martinez, Jeff Crist and Terri Worf. The deadline to register to vote in the election is Oct. 15. Unlike the other five public bodies on the ballot next month, the race for the Board of Trustees is one without a single incumbent.
Of the six new candidates, four — retired GCCC Dean of Student Services Beth Tedrow, Genesis Family Health social worker and psychotherapist Vanessa Gaytan, former GCCC Endowment Association President Shanda Smith and Holcomb USD 363 Superintendent Scott Myers — gathered at the Pauline Joyce Fine Arts auditorium at GCCC Tuesday evening for the second of three candidate forums hosted by the Cultural Empowerment and Development Foundation. Garden City Price & Sons Funeral Home director Aaron Kucharik and retired Garden City Police Department officer David Rupp are also running for the board.
Tedrow, Gaytan, Smith and Myers’ answered questions selected at random throughout the night, their discussion turning to a desire to expand the college’s services and to rebuild the institution’s relationship Garden City itself.
While never mentioned outright, the issues in the college’s rearview, namely the exit of former president Herbert Swender in August 2018 and lasting concerns of the Board of Trustees’ effectiveness, transparency and accessibility, bubbled at the root of some of the candidate’s answers. An echoed theme? Trust, openness and a willingness to listen to all members of the community.
Here are some key takeaways from the present candidates:
Gaytan said GCCC has done a lot for her. After dropping out of high school, the Garden City native said enrolling at the community college was the best thing she’s ever done, setting her on a road to earn her associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. The college’s affordable tuition and distance learning opportunities are an asset for all community members, she said.
During the forum, Gaytan lauded GCCC’s instructors and said, given the decision to tend to college services or facilities with available funds, she would likely devote money first to services, depending on the circumstances. In a diverse community, she said many students, particularly those who are undocumented immigrants who have little or no access to traditional financial aid, struggle with paying for higher education. The college’s affordability helps, she said.
When reaching out to the community, she said she would try to poll locals with surveys in multiple languages, seek out hard-to-reach populations and potentially ask locals about college initiatives at well-attended college events.
Gaytan said she may not be in education, but her background in social work fuels her to advocate for those in need. She said she would put her “greatest effort” into everything.
“I’ll be coming in with a different perspective and sometimes we need that,” Gaytan said.
Myers, beginning his second year as USD 363 superintendent described himself as an “education nerd,” with a background at the Kansas State Department of Education and as an administrator in rural and urban school districts, including Elkhart USD 218.
The superintendent received several questions about the college’s budget, programs and challenges. Regarding the budget, he said he has experience managing public education budgets in the K-12 sector and would also push for the college to jumpstart new initiatives with grant funding. He said he would like to see the expansion of programs in place at the program, including the John Deere program, which focuses on trade careers.
When asked about challenges to the college or areas for its improvement, he pointed to a need to build trust with the community, which could be done in part by board members being visible, present and accessible to community members.
“The fabric of trust has been impacted for a variety of reasons. In order to move forward, that has to be addressed. It’s addressed through transparency, through dialoguing with the community, making sure that the voices of all are heard and then considered in a very thoughtful manner moving forward,” Myers said. “That is the foundation. Without trust, you’re not going to get much done.”
As a Cloud County Community College graduate, Myers said he was interested in the community college’s ability to serve “any and all” community members, from high school students and recent graduates to adults seeking continuing education. He also hoped to continue collaboration between Finney County K-12 school districts, GCCC and other entities, he said. He understood the processes behind public education and is interested in serving the college as a “servant leader,” he said.
Smith operates Skeeter’s Body Shop with her husband and for several years was involved with the GCCC Endowment Association, she said. A Garden City native with a master’s in business, she said she is interested in safeguarding the monetary resources from taxpayers and ensuring that the college is financially responsible.
Smith’s questions tended to revolve around the current board itself and her role on it should she be elected. When asked how well the current board has held its presidents accountable, she said the board has long been adjusting its policy governance to address its role in doing just that. The college, like colleges across the nation, is always updating the way it addresses sexual assault on campus, she said in response to a question asking what the college was doing to address sexual assault.
She said she would have no problem honestly and directly discussing difficult topics with civility and that her top priority would be focusing on the board’s transparency and readiness to listen to its community.
As a taxpayer, community member, business owner and parent of a GCCC student, Smith said could speak to the needs of different kinds of community members and approach decisions from a mulit-layered perspective. She said she is detail-oriented and unafraid to speak her mind and will thoroughly research all decisions.
“Improving the trust between the stakeholders and the Board of Trustees will require open, honest communication and a genuine willingness to listen. I’m focused on a fresh start for GCCC’s next century and ensuring its continued success,” Smith said.
Tedrow, who graduated from GCCC and went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, worked for decades at the college as an instructor, counselor and dean before retiring in 2009. She said the college is special to her, the alma mater of not only her, but her daughters, sisters and mother, and a decade of community volunteerism has helped her connect with much of the community.
Tedrow said some of the college’s largest problems are managing the budget and recruiting and retaining students. The board, administration and staff at the college were doing well and working to make the college better, but constant transparency and communication with the community is still vital.
She said the board and administration never wants to raise taxes, and were she elected she would look to other budgeting practices before looking to upping the mill levy. Sometimes raising taxes is a necessity, she said, but only to ensure student’s safety and the college’s viability.
Tedrow said she wanted to see the college continue to build local partnerships for the benefit of its students and for trustees to meet with their counterparts in other communities, like Dodge City and Liberal.
“‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,’” Tedrow said, quoting Maya Angelou.. “I will do better for you any chance I get.”