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PD Editorial: Two new faces for the SRJC board

At 102 years old, the junior college is rooted as deeply in Sonoma County as the heritage oaks on its Santa Rosa campus.|

When we write about the North Bay’s infrastructure, the topic is usually hardware — highways, railroads, the airport or high-speed internet service.

Those are tools, operated by and for people, many of whom are educated at Santa Rosa Junior College, another cornerstone of the region’s economy.

With more than 275 associate’s degree and certificate programs, and more than 2,000 graduates in each of the past eight academic years, Santa Rosa Junior College trains a large portion of the local workforce — auto mechanics, nurses, cops and firefighters, wine marketers and cellar workers, to name just a few. The school also sends students on to UC and CSU to complete four-year degrees.

At 102 years old, the junior college is rooted as deeply in Sonoma County as the heritage oaks on its Santa Rosa campus. Yet it’s easy to forget that SRJC is a public institution, with a $150 million budget and governed by an elected board of trustees.

This year, five candidates — incumbents Don Edgar and Mariana Martinez and challengers Bañuelos, Kerry Rego and Sarichon Toeung — are vying for two board seats representing Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park on the seven-member board of trustees.

Terry Lindley, who has represented the north county on the board for almost a quarter-century, is unopposed for reelection.

Some big challenges await the victors, beginning a steady decline in enrollment from 37,000  in the spring of 2002 to 17,000 this year that has required painful budget cuts, including last-minute cancellation of most summer classes in 2018.

The coronavirus pandemic is an added wild card.

Meanwhile, the college is preparing to build a new science building and to offer student housing at its main campus for the first time in more than decade.

We’re concerned that the board’s use of project labor agreements, which disadvantage nonunion contractors, will drive up costs for new buildings, and that bond oversight committee members say they haven’t received requested information to assess the cost impact on the recently remodeled Burbank Auditorium.

Unfortunately, the incumbents voted for the project labor agreement for the auditorium, and none of the challengers committed to opposing them in the future.

Rego is a social media consultant and instructor at, among other places, SRJC — a post she plans to give up if she is elected. She stood out in our interviews with her businesswoman’s eye for managing money, including proposals for data-based reviews to identify programs that could be combined or eliminated to free resources for higher priorities. Where much of the faculty resisted online classes before the pandemic, she sees “an opportunity” to boost enrollment by filling unmet student demand for online options.

Full disclosure: Rego is a former community member of the editorial board.

Martinez, who was elected four years ago, is the first Latina to serve on the SRJC board and has focused on equity issues, including access and support for minorities as well as older and low-income students. Her goals for a second term include acquiring a permanent home for SRJC’s Southwest Center in Roseland.

Bañuelos, who studied at SRJC, is president of the Sonoma County Latino Democratic Club and a board member for KBBF radio. She too focuses on equity issues and wants the Southwest Center upgraded to better match other SRJC facilities. Her votes aren’t likely to differ substantially from Martinez’s votes, but she offers more detailed ideas, such as an accelerated program for students attending college while working full time.

Edgar, who is seeking a third term, disqualified himself in our eyes a year ago when his law license was suspended by the State Bar to settle a complaint that he misappropriated client funds. Edgar blamed a former paralegal and said he repaid the money, but public officials need to meet a higher standard.

Toeung, a refugee from Cambodia, settled in Santa Rosa, graduated from SRJC and UC Irvine, earned a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins University and is starting a tech business. He’s running to give back to the community but acknowledges that he doesn’t know a lot about current campus issues.

The Press Democrat recommends two new faces for the Santa Rosa Junior College board of trustees: Kerry Rego and Caroline Bañuelos.

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