With the April 5 election quickly approaching, three of the four candidates for the State Fair Community College Board of Trustees offered their stances on various issues during a candidate forum Tuesday evening.
Hosted by the State Fair Community College Faculty Association and the Professional and Classified Staff Associations in the Thompson Conference Center, incumbent Randall Eaton and newcomers Nick La Strada and Justin Hubbs answered questions from moderator Michael Davis, a history instructor, to help inform voters. Candidate Marlin Hammond did not attend the forum.
The three candidates each gave an opening statement, participated in the question-and-answer portion, and gave a one-minute closing statement. Questions ranged from qualifications and budget ideas to how the potential board members would support college staff, and all three continually came back to the idea that they want to help with continued growth at State Fair.
Each candidate was asked what they think are current priorities for SFCC and community colleges in Missouri.
“I think the biggest opportunity is how do we continue to grow, how do we continue to be evolving with the current trends that are happening across America, whether it’s technology or new certificates or new policies and procedures, you’ve got to be able to move on the horizon with that,” Hubbs said. “The biggest thing that faces SFCC right now is, looking at what are our next steps?”
“Making sure you’re hearing what’s going on, you’ve got to be involved with the political aspect of things, bringing the college to Jeff City and hearing what we can do with the legislators and working with them, working with businesses and working with the students,” La Strada said. “It’s a great college, it’s a college we have in our own backyard. … The No. 1 key is education, that’s what counts.”
“The immediate challenge I see right now is the budget. We’ve got to look at the challenges of providing new services in an environment where enrollment is declining…” Eaton said. “The history shows that the elected board members have always been very cognitive of the fact that we’ve got to be fiscally responsible with our resources. We’re dealing with public money and as you all know, money is very precious to everybody and I think it’s really important to look to continue providing those resources to students and still be fiscally responsible.”
Davis later gave a budget-related question, asking if the candidates would be willing to approve a deficit budget and what cuts would they make first to help offset the deficit. La Strada said he would work with the college team to let them know there is a deficit to help everyone make appropriate cuts. Eaton said the administration has “done a great job looking at places where they can save money” and that “you have to make every effort to make it black.” Hubbs agreed with both candidates that looking at efficiencies is important.
Both Hubbs and Eaton said sometimes there are circumstances the college can’t control that would result in a deficit budget.
The candidates were also asked if they would support tax levy increases, bond issues or expanding tax district boundaries for the operation, renovation and building of facilities for the college. La Strada didn’t give a clear yes or no answer, stating he thinks it is important to bring tax issues to the vote of the people, while Hubbs and Eaton both said they would support an increase.
“As far as expanding geographical boundaries, yes, I am in favor of that if it is appropriate,” Eaton said. “… As far as personally, I would say I would be in favor of doing some kind of a bond or a tax increase; I’m not afraid of that. I think if the board determines that is the direction we have to go, it is absolutely vital you provide to the voters the information that’s going to tell them what those dollars are going to do.”
“… Would I be in favor, absolutely,” Hubbs said. “You’ve got to look at all avenues, you have to look at all angles, but at the end of the day if that’s what it’s going to take to get expansion and growth of the college, then absolutely we’ve got to take it to the voters and let them have their say.”
Davis gave a follow-up question, asking if they would be in favor of a tax increase to increase the number of full-time faculty. All three candidates said that would be a challenging tax issue to pass, and that they would look at all other options before using that approach.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.