Four candidates are competing for two seats on the State Fair Community College Board of Trustees in the April 5 municipal election — incumbent Randall Eaton and newcomers Nick La Strada, Justin Hubbs and Marlin Hammond.
Profiles of La Strada and Hammond will be published in Friday’s edition of the Democrat.
Eaton has been a banker for 35 years, working in Kansas City and Warsaw. A graduate from Warsaw High School, Drury University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, he’s served on the SFCC board for one term, which is six years, and was previously involved with the SFCC Foundation board.
“I’ve always had an intense interest in education and I’ve been involved with education,” Eaton said of his decision to seek re-election. “My wife is a retired teacher and I’ve served on the school board in Warsaw and then I’ve been on many, many committees and programs both at the local and state level concerning education.”
Eaton said top challenges facing the college include a “slim decline in enrollment” and addressing needs in the Master Plan.
“In the Master Plan that was recently completed, the top priority was looking at building a new technology center and that would benefit not only students who are doing stuff with computers, but it’s also students that are going into welding or farm equipment,” he said. “… For us to stay competitive we realize we need to be looking at that.”
The SFCC board is studying whether it should put a tax increase issue on an upcoming ballot to help fund the proposed technology center on campus. Eaton said he expects funding for the center, if plans progress, will be a combination of sources: “Hopefully in addition to some kind of a general tax initiative we’ll have either corporate sponsors or individual givers who will see technology is the future.”
“We’re going to be doing a survey of our taxing district. We’ve hired a company that will be doing that survey and doing a cross section of both our counties, Pettis and Benton, looking at what the constituents think of that, how important it is for the college,” he said. “Once we get the results of that survey, one of the most important things the board will be looking at in the near future is if we’ll move forward in looking for ways to fund that technology center and how realistic it is.”
Eaton said to help address a recent enrollment decline, the college and board need to make sure the school is offering the degrees and certificates students are looking for, as well as offering classes that fit into today’s busy schedules, such as nights and weekends in addition to traditional day classes.
As for goals if elected, Eaton said he doesn’t have any “personal goals, I’m just trying to do what’s good for our area.” He added that it’s always been his “concern” that SFCC provide some type of access to quality education in the area for those students who may not be able to or don’t want to complete a four-year degree.
“I’ve got some experience both at State Fair specifically and then I have a broad background both in the financial world and the business world, as well as I’ve been involved with educational entities and programs throughout my career,” Eaton said of why citizens should vote for him. “I think I’ve got a history that shows I have the interest and hopefully I will bring to the plate a strong voice for the students.”
Hubbs graduated from SFCC in 2003, spending the last 13 years in retail management at Staples, Big Lots, and now serves as assistant manager at Kohl’s. Hubbs said his experience dealing with budgets and managing people will serve him well as a trustee. He has also spent the last three years on the advisory committee for the SFCC business department.
“It’s really an honor to run, being an alum from there, being able to help the business department there and be active and passionate there, so I wanted to take that and expand on it to the whole college,” Hubbs said of his decision to run.
Hubbs offered what he thinks are top issues facing the college, noting “continuing (the college’s) momentum” is important.
“I think the addition of the sports programs are an absolute win. I think we need to continue to build on that,” he said. “… I know enrollment’s been down — that’s a nationwide trend — I think the addition of the sports programs will help counterbalance that. Of course the 2020 vision is a huge thing we have to keep moving forward with.”
Hubbs said he is in full support of the proposed technology center because it will benefit more than just State Fair, although, like Eaton, he didn’t offer a specific stance on a possible tax increase.
“It may be a hefty price tag if you look at the whole lump sum of the project, but you can’t really look at something like that as a short-term expense,” he explained. “That’s something that’s going to reap benefits down the road. … We’ve got manufacturing right here in Pettis County, surrounding counties, and if you can draw students into that technology and then prepare them for the workforce here, that’s a win overall.”
Hubbs said the new athletic programs will help with recent declining enrollment at SFCC, as well as the Navigator program and continuing to “support the leadership that’s in place because I do feel they are headed the right direction.”
As for goals for office, Hubbs didn’t have any specific ones in mind.
“It’s always a changing landscape,” he said. “Yes, you want enrollment up, continue to support the sports program, the Navigator program, the technology center. I don’t know if there really are goals — you have to look at it as an evolving landscape every month, every day, and just really forward thinking and how is the impact today going to impact future enrollment. … We’ve really just got to help the college grow.”
Overall, Hubb talked about supporting the growth of the college and being an “active leader.”
“I think I’ve got proven results through all the businesses I’ve worked for,” Hubbs said of why citizens should vote for him. “I’m very passionate about the community, I’m very passionate about seeing the college successful. I will continue to be that voice, that advocate that will help the college grow.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.