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Half-billion dollar Measure C centers on accountability, role of junior colleges

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Now I know what the “C” stands for in Measure C.

“Clark” – as in Clark Kerr.

Yes, I’m kidding. Near as I can tell, the “C” in Measure C is a randomly chosen letter to identify the local $485 million educational bond on the June 7 primary ballot.

But my little joke does have a serious point. As you old-timers may recall, Kerr was the president of the University of California system in the late 1950s/1960s who oversaw the creation of a revolutionary master plan for higher education in the state.

The California Master Plan for Higher Education became state law in 1960.

The State Center Community College District – home to Fresno City College and Reedley College, among other campuses – is pushing Measure C.

A bond of nearly a half-billion dollars is a whopper by any definition.

My predictions: Measure C will pass with more than 55% of the vote. Measure C will be as revolutionary in our neck of the woods over the next half-century as Kerr’s master plan was across California over the past half-century.

Full disclosure: My wife and I have already cast our vote-by-mail ballots. We voted yes on Measure C.

Both of us are community college products – College of the Sequoias for me, Fresno CC for Mary. Our son attended Fresno CC. He went on to graduate from Fresno State.

Mary and I are registered Republicans. We are homeowners. Paying a little more in property taxes to keep the local community college system strong is worth it to us.

At the same time, I understand the concern of Measure C critics. In fact, I’m disappointed they didn’t go down a slightly different path with their opposition. More on that later.

First, I’ll briefly review Measure C’s details, and highlight key points of supporters and opponents.

I won’t go into detail. The Bee’s Mackenzie Mays and Rory Appleton have done a superb job of reporting the nitty-gritty of Measure C. On top of that, Bee Editorial Page Editor Bill McEwen did the public right by publishing vigorous Measure C op-eds from the Lincoln Club’s Tal Cloud (against) and former SCCCD Chancellor Bill Stewart (for).

Well done, Willie. CVObserver Publisher Alex Tavlian hit the nail on the head when he ranked you among Fresno’s top power brokers.

Here’s the Measure C question on your ballot:

“Local Community College Classroom Repair and Job Training Improvements Measure. To repair/upgrade Fresno City, Clovis, Reedley Colleges, to prepare students and veterans for jobs/university transfer by upgrading classroom buildings, labs/technology, upgrading vocational/career education programs, removing lead paint/asbestos, repairing leaky roofs, wiring, gas/sewer line and acquiring, construct/repairing facilities, sites/equipment, shall State Center Community College District issue $485,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, no money for administrators’ salaries, audits, all funds used locally?”

Yes or no.

The voter guide from Fresno County Registrar of Voters Brandi Orth has the full text of the Measure C resolution passed on a 6-1 vote by SCCCD trustees (Patrick Patterson voted no).

If the district doesn’t address huge infrastructure needs, the resolution states, “the District’s Colleges would be unable to remain competitive in preparing students for jobs in high demand industries and university transfer.”

The resolution is a remarkable document. There are five reasons why the infrastructure repairs/upgrades can’t wait. Three college campuses (Fresno, Reedley, Clovis) will benefit. Two centers (Madera and Oakhurst) will benefit. Other sites to be determined will benefit. Six goals/purposes are listed. Seven specific repairs/upgrades are identified. Five guarantees for fiscal accountability are promised, including the creation of a Citizens Oversight Committee composed of local citizens.

And all that is merely the introduction to a long narrative itemizing everything that the $485 million could (but not necessarily will) buy. Much of the narrative is one sentence. The only pauses come from a sprinkling of semi-colons.

I like this part of the narrative, coming deep in the flood of words: “… install new security systems, such as security (surveillance) cameras, burglar alarms, handrails, outdoor lighting, fencing, gates and classroom door locks; replace sewer lines and improve drainage systems to prevent flooding; acquire land; upgrade roadway and pedestrian paths for improved safety and access for the emergency vehicles, site parking, utilities and grounds.”

I read this as, “Blah, blah, blah, ACQUIRE LAND, blah, blah, blah.”

It is this avalanche of promises and good intentions, pitched in the name of transparency, that seems to most anger Cloud in his Bee op-ed. In essence, he says, it’s all well and good to buy up-to-date toilets and water fountains for the wide variety of people who use SCCCD facilities. But before the public commits itself to a long-term $485 million debt, perhaps district officials should play fair and explain in detail what they mean by big-ticket items such as “acquire land.”

Real estate and taxpayer money – that’s where things can go wrong in a hurry.

“Study the bond and think about the lack of openness in the way it got on the ballot and who is financing the campaign,” Cloud wrote in conclusion.

Stewart in his Bee op-ed focused on Measure C’s long gestation. Make no mistake, Stewart wrote, district officials made sure the public had plenty of input before pulling the trigger on a bond proposal of this magnitude.

“Please join a broad coalition of teachers, public safety officials, health care, community business leaders, newspaper editorial boards and local chambers of commerce in support of Measure C,” Stewart wrote in conclusion.

Late last month I spoke briefly about Measure C with two top local educators. Luis Chavez is chief of staff for Fresno City Council Member Sal Quintero and is president of the Fresno Unified School District board of trustees. Miguel Arias is executive director of Community and Family Services at Fresno Unified and is a SCCCD trustee.

“I’m confident Measure C will pass,” Chavez said. “I think the community will see the investment that will occur and the big bang for the buck they’ll get.

“What do we hear about Fresno all the time? Low educational attainment levels. Poverty. (Measure C) is the way to get through that, and really address the underlying problem we have. Education will do more than increase income levels. It will create economic development in areas that need it.”

Said Arias: “In the past we didn’t build community colleges on the basis of where the students were or what the students needed. It was based on who donated 120 acres (for a campus)…. This bond does not propose for us to be the tip of the spear for sprawl anymore. It proposes for us to invest in the areas of highest need and invest in alignment (of missions) with the local communities and the local institutions we work with.”

This brings us full circle back to Clark Kerr and the key issue that I think both the supporters and the opponents of Measure C dodged.

What is a community college in the 21st century? (Or, as they were called in my day, junior colleges.)

It’s not an easy question, as Kerr and his colleagues discovered as they tried to bring order to California’s world of higher education.

Our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents all understood the value of career training and professional education in a modern and industrialized world. At stake was more than the ambitions of individuals, families and communities. National survival depended on an intellectually dynamic citizenry.

A third of the way into the 20th century, California’s higher education system was both lively and chaotic. It seemed every town wanted its own chamber of commerce, its own high school football stadium and its own institution of refined learning that would someday compete with Harvard.

Junior colleges were seen in some corners as a means to that end. You know – start out modest, attract the right college president, build a local funding base, move up to four-year status, then see where fortune takes you.

The four-year state schools a step below the University of California class – you know, places like Fresno State – also had believers who longed to step up in status.

Kerr led the effort to bring order to this affair. No need here to go into the details. It’s sufficient to say each of the three tiers – University of California, state universities, junior colleges – was given specific duties and specific student markets to serve.

Stay on your own turf and there’s no problem.

But nothing about America stays the same. I once wrote a 105,000-word story that explored how the dramatic and volatile forces at work in America in the late 1960s led to unusual stresses at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. The core of the story was the Rams and Giants football teams. But the fundamental theme was how the California junior college had to adapt to a new, a revolutionized society.

(Side note: I lost my electronic copy of the story. Vic Lamanuzzi, the great running back on Fresno CC football teams from that era, saved a copy and sent it to me. If anyone out here in CVObserverland wants an electronic copy, email me at georgehostetter@gmail.com. Vic and I met a few months ago. He still looks like he could bust seven yards off-tackle.)

Measure C’s half-billion dollars is going to change the community college system in the Central San Joaquin Valley just as the 1968 Fresno CC-COS football feud (not to mention The Sixties) changed junior colleges some 50 years ago.

I can’t predict exactly how. Maybe Measure C will prove there’s no limiting principle to what junior colleges are expected to do, thereby weakening the system by insisting that it do too much. Maybe Measure C will transform parts of inner-city Fresno – the Southeast neighborhoods, the Southwest neighborhoods, the neighborhoods surrounding the flagship Fresno City campus – that so badly need help. Maybe Measure C will put immense numbers of people to work, making the next half-billion bond a no-brainer.

I just sense that Measure C, if it passes, will be turning point much like the one sparked by Clark Kerr at the beginning of a most remarkable decade.

Kerr didn’t survive the Sixties as head of the University of California. He said he left the university the same way he entered it: “Fired with enthusiasm.”

What is a community college these days? Too bad voters didn’t weren’t treated to an enthusiastic debate on this question.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

2 Comments

  1. It is a great moment in time when we can support the necessary education for elevating all the people that have a desire to advance in the world and the future. The problem is that we are constrained by the thinking of the people that will abuse the opportunity and use this largess for other than that which it was intended for.

    The last measure “C” had a governing board that also “diverted” funds from Measure “C” to the great project of High Speed Rail (HSR). Only this was in the wonderful prospect of getting the Heavy Maintenance Facility (HMF). Twenty-five million dollars was diverted to HSR and this entity continues to lie and cheat the average tax-payer out of what little we have left.

    Measure “C” is just a continuation of the policies and practices of people that care only for the power that 450 million dollars will give them. After Measure “C” passes I will be willing to bet that the first thing is that money will be found to increase the pay of teachers, administrators, and staff. The buildings will not get better but their will be several new organizations created to manage the new revenues. New people will be hired and the average person will get stuck with the bill.

  2. Once a NO vote at the SCCCD Board meeting that took place in Reedley, Pat Patterson has since become a believer and supporter of Measure C for the State Center Community College District!

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