College Board candidates talk finance, accountability and Malibu representation

Candidate interviews revealed challengers upset with the current board’s financial decisions and an incumbent who stands by her record.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Two issues have dominated the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees campaign this year: finance and accountability. The two are interrelated, with challengers saying the board needs to restore accountability after it mishandled its budget during last year’s funding crisis, while the incumbent says the board made cuts responsibly.

The six challengers and one incumbent, competing for three seats, discussed finance, program cuts and Malibu representation in interviews with The Malibu Times.

Susan Aminoff

Aminoff has highlighted her work on the Joint Labor Health Benefits Committee at Los Angeles Community College, saying her award-winning negotiations there will prepare her for healing what she sees as rifts between SMC’s leadership and constituents.

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“Collaboration and consensus-building is not just a philosophy for me; it’s what I do,” she said. Aminoff said she would try to rally the board around restoring vocational programs, saying SMC should serve students who want to enter the work force directly as well as those who aim to transfer to four-year colleges.

Aminoff proposed creating a task force to create a plan to implement courses in Malibu if people want them.

Endorsements: Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights; Education Team (Coalition of Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers’ Association and Santa Monica College Faculty Association); Santa Monica Democratic Club; California School Employee Association, Chapter 36

Charles Donaldson

Donaldson, a retired 31-year SMC English and journalism professor, has emphasized his familiarity with college issues and ideas for budget management.

“We seem to spend large amounts of money on things that one wonders about,” he said, citing the board’s proposal for a $25 million theater when programs have been cut.

Donaldson advocated restoring vocational programs, which he said had been whittled away long before last year’s cuts. “One hundred years from now you’re going to look around and need someone who can work with electrical parts,” he said. “Not everything can be solved by putting a computer on students’ desks.”

Endorsements: Says he is independent.

Tonja McCoy

McCoy would be the first Malibu trustee in more than a decade and is running on the twofold platform of “being a voice for the tax dollars and the people whose funds are supporting the college,” and reinstating the eight vocational programs the board eliminated during a state-funding crisis in May 2003.

She would have found alternate funding for the automotive and other programs, McCoy said. “Everyone relies on the government for every dime … I would have thought outside the box, been creative, come up with a committee to go for outside grants.”

McCoy, who runs programs preparing students for college, said one board seat should always be reserved for Malibu.

Endorsements: Mayor Sharon Barovsky

Margaret Quiñones

The only incumbent running, Quiñones has defended her vote to cut vocational programs, saying faculty and staff were included in the decision.

“We had to cut our budget 25 percent. We consulted everybody,” she said. “It’s not like the board went ‘[cut] this one, this one, this one.'”

She said the board had already directed college staff to explore reinstating one of the most popular programs, automotive.

Quiñones, who has a Ph.D. in education leadership from UCLA, said she has long pushed for meetings in Malibu and for Malibu representation but “no one’s stepped up” to run in years.

Endorsements:

Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce; Malibu Democratic Club; Santa Monica Police Officers Association

Robert Greenstein Rader

Rader, who was a finalist for a board appointment last year, has focused on accountability, saying budget struggles have created rifts between SMC’s leadership, students and faculty. “We must restore civility,” he said.

The college should be accountable to students by providing the programs they want, including whatever vocational programs they need, Rader said. “We need to set up greater accountability, reporting and transparency on all vocational programs and then do the market research to determine what vocational programs are effective and viable.”

As a Pepperdine University professor and chair of Santa Monica’s largest neighborhood association, Rader said he could represent Malibu and Santa Monica perspectives.

Endorsements: Mayor Sharon Barovsky; Council Members Ken Kearsley and Pamela Conley Ulich; Education Team (Coalition of Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers’ Association and Santa Monica College Faculty Association); Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights

Susanne Trimbath

Trimbath, an economist, has cast herself as a political outsider. “I can bring a fresh set of eyes,” she said.

She advocated partnering with industry or neighboring cities to fund restoration of vocational programs, and she said she would canvass Malibu to find out what Malibuites desired from SMC.

She is the only candidate definitively against Measure S, the $135 million bond for playing fields and facilities renovation. “What they’re doing right now is they are borrowing money when they haven’t even spent the money they’ve already borrowed …and they also don’t have a clear plan of how they’re going to spend this money,” she said.

Endorsements:

Says she is “beholden to none, responsible to all.”

Douglas Willis

Willis, a UCLA accountant, has said he could use his economics expertise to improve financial management. He said the board overlooked options and relied on misinformation when cutting programs.

“There were some things on the table, and why they didn’t consider them I’m still not sure, but the faculty and staff knew the state budget was in crisis and they were willing to concede five percent, ten percent salary decreases so everyone would have been able to keep their jobs,” he said.

Willis said his history of “looking out for the under-represented”-as NAACP president and a Santa Monica Rent Control Board member-prepares him for voicing Malibu’s interests.

Endorsements:Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights; Education Team (Coalition of Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers’ Association and Santa Monica College Faculty Association); Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce; Santa Monica Democratic Club

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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