The best four candidates to lead Los Rios Community College

Valarie Jean Martin
Valarie Jean Martin

The challenges and ambitions of the Los Rios Community College District require an experienced board of trustees to increase enrollment and provide access for all students.

Four of seven seats are up for election. We recommend that voters return the three incumbents who are running, in part, because Los Rios is a well-managed district with stable labor relations, although its enrollment is falling. Brice W. Harris, who led Los Rios and was community college chancellor, endorsed the incumbents, an important stamp of approval.

The district is working to launch an ambitious “college promise program” that would pay registration fees, and possibly books, for first-year students. The trustees also are searching for a president to lead Sacramento City College and soon will begin a search to replace the president of Folsom Lake College.

Area 3

John Knight, who was elected in 2014, deserves another term. He brings a strong financial background to the board, is a comprehensive thinker and is very engaged. Knight says Los Rios needs to be more responsive to employers’ needs and work more closely with the business community to find out what the job sector is looking for.

To increase enrollment, Knight wants to do a better job of working with high schools. This includes freshmen and sophomores in hopes of demonstrating the value of attending community college, and the path to getting a degree and a job.

Marc Allaman, a public educator for 33 years, is a strong contender who ran in 2014. Kirk Seal, a trustee of Buckeye Union School District, is also running.

Area 4

Voters face a tough choice between incumbent Ruth Scribner and newcomer Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald. Both candidates attended community colleges in their younger days and appreciate the system’s vital mission.

Escamilla Greenwald, a Davis resident who works for Caltrans, would be the only board member from Yolo County, important because Los Rios has satellite campuses in Davis and West Sacramento. She promises to seek funding for a shuttle to help students get to Sacramento City College, where many classes are taught. If she wins, she would have a learning curve, although other trustees could mentor her.

Scribner, a high school teacher and librarian in Elk Grove, has served on the board since 1996. She is knowledgeable and passionate, and was a strong advocate for creation of the West Sacramento campus. We recommend Scribner because of her experience, but encourage Escamilla Greenwald to run again.

Area 5

Pamela Haynes, who has served on the board for 17 years, has been a very knowledgeable, progressive and strong trustee who deserves re-election. She cites funding retirement benefits as one of the district’s biggest priorities.

Another challenge is trying to build enrollment, which has been flat over the past couple years. Hayes wants the district to work more closely with high school counselors to boost pathways to college, and for college faculty to work with high school faculty to improve courses.

Haynes says ensuring students have access to community college is critical, as is helping students complete the work necessary to meet their goals – transferring to a four-year college, or earning a certificate or an AA degree. She also sees the need to improve remediation services for incoming students.

Ralph Merletti, a substitute teacher, is also running.

Area 7

For the first time in 20 years, influential board member Kay Albiani will not be on the ballot for trustee, leaving behind a yawning gap of institutional knowledge. To begin to fill it, voters should look to Valarie Jean Martin, a Rancho Cordova resident who has decades of experience in education.

A retired teacher and current tutor, Martin, 63, is herself a graduate of community college. At 36, facing the end of a relationship and the prospect of raising four children alone with only a high school diploma, she enrolled in Contra Costa College in San Pablo. From there, she went on to earn multiple degrees from UC Berkeley.

Martin’s experience mirrors that of many students in Los Rios. That gives her unique insight into ways to boost enrollment, completion rates and transfers to four-year universities.

If elected, Martin would pair more students with tutors, and work even closer with high schools, the UCs and the CSUs to ensure students have a seamless educational experience. There also are “out of the box” ideas, such as making sure students who are homeless have a place to shower on campus and that student mothers get have access to child care on campus.

Compared to campaign rivals Tami Nelson, an Elk Grove teacher, and John Michael Shook, a volunteer, because of her experience, Martin is the clear choice.