Four contenders who are vying for three seats on the Foothill-De Anza Community College District board of trustees will face the challenges of navigating the district through the pandemic, dwindling financial support, declining enrollment and a need for housing for teachers and students.
The four candidates recently responded to a series of questions related to the district's most pressing needs. Below are their answers.
What is the greatest challenge facing the district over the next two years?
Casas: The budget! Our institution depends on the State of California for funding. The State of California has not collected the normal amount of taxes due to the pandemic. Therefore, severe cuts await our institution the next year and the year after.
Landsberger: The need to adjust to the changes required by the COVID pandemic and its inevitable fallout.
Tatachari: Responding to the disruptions and new challenges from coronavirus pandemic: education delivery — build a remote tutoring network and enable greater interaction between students who can not attend classes physically; challenges and opportunities to retrain those in our community who lost their jobs due to the structural changes in the economy; student services that address mental health issues and food insecurity and help them find employment opportunities once they finish our programs.
Wong: Declining enrollment and the FHDA Community College District budget. Our revenue from Sacramento is determined on how many full-time enrolled students enrolled at De Anza College and Foothill College.
What would be your highest priorities in allocating the $898 million in bond money (Prop G) approved by local voters in March?
Casas: No money will go to administrative, faculty or other employee salaries. Priorities include: a 15-year refresh plan for computers, software and instructional equipment for career technical programs; districtwide energy efficient lighting; infrastructure repairs to parking lots and buildings; improving wireless access and replacing the structurally unsound and dilapidated Flint Center at De Anza College with a performing arts structure that better meets community and student needs. Public/private partnerships for employee and student housing.
Landsberger: General upgrade and repair to existing facilities and equipment, especially the information technology infrastructure. Effective implementation of the district's strategic plan for energy management and decarbonization. Limited new construction, such as the new De Anza Events Center, and housing for faculty, staff, students but only through partnerships with organizations that are equipped to develop and operate housing.
Tatachari: Develop technical infrastructure for effective education delivery and remote collaboration. Fixes, upgrades and modernization of building and education-related infrastructure with sustainability and similar approaches. Improving existing facilities to enable industry-relevant programs (robotics, data-centers, high-tech health care, electric vehicles). Replacement for the performing arts center and other community-oriented services
Wong: A new Multi-Purpose Event Center that will not only benefit De Anza College students but also will benefit the greater Cupertino community. Using the Facility Master Plan, which would guide the board on how to spend Measure G funds wisely, including building upgrades, technology and computer program modernization for distance learning, developing and implementing an energy-management plan and student housing.
What are the top three ways the district could either cut expenses or gain more revenue, given the reality of a shrinking budget?
Casas: Evaluate and limit programs not essential to certificate completion in workforce development or transfer to a four-year college. Non-essential personnel cuts are probable. The district will have to seek additional funding in government grants, foundation dollars and corporate partnerships. One example of a successful corporate partnership is the Gene Haas Foundation. They awarded a $1 million gift for our Design and Manufacturing Program to expand its labs. This program will train skilled programmers and operators for the manufacturing industry.
Landsberger: Over the next several years, the only likely source of new revenue that is material will be through grants, contracts and philanthropy. The district's best asset in that regard is the Foothill-De Anza Foundation, which has a strong board and capable leadership and staff. It is about to embark on a significant strategic planning effort guided by a Strategic Plan Committee of which I am a member.
The expenditure budget of any teaching and learning organization consists largely of salary and benefits for faculty and staff. Foothill-De Anza will need to continue its disciplined and frugal approach to setting staffing levels and filling positions.
Tatachari: Work on strategies to increase enrollment for educational, employment and personal learning goals for students of all ages. Build strong industrial/government partnerships and sponsorships (workforce training). Invest in leveraging facilities via partnerships and minimal facility upgrade to quickly onboard industry-relevant programs that help generate more revenue. Increase the value provided to the community and seek community support. Perform a comparative analysis of our cost structure with our peers in neighboring communities and (the) state to identify potential areas with scope for efficiencies.
Wong: Everything should be on the table to be considered. We need to make sure we are open and transparent with the process if we need to cut expenses. Examine programs offered at both colleges and their popularity and costs. Examine overhead related to faculty, staff and administrators related to effectiveness in programs, student's success and equity. Assist part-time faculty needs. Increase enrollment. Advertise the College Promise Program, which provides free tuition to recent high school graduates and free or almost-free textbooks.
"Once the pandemic is over, enhance 'distance learning' as another opportunity to enroll more students as it allows flexibility to study from home or work and would require us less to have a physical footprint of buildings to maintain, which can be costly," he wrote in the questionnaire.
Do you support building housing for teachers on the Foothill and De Anza campuses?
Casas: "No, not on campus. I do not think the faculty would support faculty housing on campus as well. I support public/private partnerships for employee and student housing," she said in the questionnaire.
Supports Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Joe Simitian's Palo Alto project for employee housing in collaboration with Palo Alto Unified School District, other school districts and Foothill-De Anza.
Landsberger: Supports the district's participation in the county-led effort to build faculty housing near the Palo Alto courthouse. Another possible collaboration is a partnership with the San Jose Conservation Corps to expand its Youth Housing Promise program.
Tatachari: Supports exploring options for teacher housing that are economically most feasible, viable and do not increase risks and managerial overhead for the district. The district should be cautious to take on the challenge to build and manage affordable housing solutions. Supports public-private partnerships with a core competency in affordable housing. An option for a public-private partnership could be to buy existing or newly built-up affordable housing properties.
Wong: Yes, supports building housing for teachers and students on the Foothill and De Anza campuses.
"It was our students on March 3, 2020, that helped get the $898 million bond measure passed with the expectation of housing being built for students and teachers," he said in the questionnaire, He supports Simitian's proposal to build teacher housing on county property in Palo Alto in partnership with Palo Alto Unified and FHDA. He would consider Foothill College's Sunnyvale campus for on-site housing.
Students are facing food insecurity, housing, and mental health challenges. What should be done to address them and what should the board do?
Casas: Supports existing programs that offer groceries and the existing relationship with a church that provides safe parking for five days on an emergency basis. Measure G should assist students and employees with the housing crisis.
Supported access to Wi-Fi and Chromebooks, which allows online student access to a mental health counselor.
Landsberger: Supports existing resources such as counselors, advisers, and other support staff, learning communities, affinity groups and campus-advocacy groups; professional development to ensure that all faculty and staff know about available resources and how best to direct students to them.
Partnership and collaboration with others to achieve collective impact on these problems is also essential. Existing partnerships with organizations like West Valley Community Services, Second Harvest Food Bank, Whole Foods, and others need to be maintained and expanded.
Tatachari: FHDA student services must leverage community organizations that dedicatedly address food insecurity, housing and mental health challenges: West Valley Community Services and others for food insecurity; Santa Clara County health services and special organizations for mental health services including Community Health Awareness Council, Palo Alto Medical Foundation mental health services, El Camino Health's newly opened Scrivner Center; and programs such as the Home Match program of Berkeley to provide housing solutions for students.
Wong: Supports the existing food pantry. Student services and counselors have increased staffing as students have asked for assistance. The district is offering housing vouchers and also partnerships with other nonprofit organizations locally to assist in student needs.