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The newly constituted Board of Education might consider another try for a bond to improve buildings

COURTESY PHOTO - Diane C. NoriegaVoters selecting four new directors for the Mt. Hood Community College board of education in the May 21 election have some choices to make: one race has two contenders and another has three.

The vast community college district faces some challenges. Voters turned down MHCC's bid to pass a facilities bond to improve its 50 year old buildings in May 2016 and again in May 2017. The new board of education may decide to try again.

In March the college increased tuition by 8%, the largest jump in a decade. Enrollment is declining at community colleges, as it generally does when jobs are plentiful.

The Outlook asked all the candidates to answer identical questions about the why they want to serve and the challenges facing the district. Their answers follow. Candidates were given a limited length and the Outlook edited some answers for length and clarity.


Zone 3

Andrew Speer

Speer, a former U.S. Marine, is a regulatory consultant with Portland General Electric. He is unopposed.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be a member of the MHCC Board of Education?

Speer: I am a former student and graduate of MHCC and highly value the education I received there. I strongly believe in the community college model of providing affordable higher education and technical training to local communities. My goal, if elected, is to help further of the mission of the MHCC by working to keep tuition affordable, increasing the access and enrollment for people of color and low-income students.

The Outlook: What are the two biggest challenges facing the college?

Speer: State funding and the lack of minority student enrollment. The lack of state funding has forced community colleges into a cycle of placing budget shortfalls onto students via tuition increases. Higher tuition is a barrier for students of color to enroll into higher education. The current student enrollment demographics at MHCC are not representative of East Multnomah County. Advocating for state funding and building relationships with local school districts and high schools is key to increasing the enrollment for students of color to balance the college's demographics with that of East County. Affordable and equitable tuition rates enable students' access to the training and education they deserve, which in turn will train a workforce capable of serving the current labor demands and attracting new businesses and industry to our community.

COURTESY PHOTO - Kenney Polson

Zone 5

Kenney Polson

Polson, an incumbent, is a teacher and band director in the Stevenson-Carson School District and well-known local jazz musician.

Polson was out of the country and could not submit answers to The Outlook's questions. This is an excerpt from his statement in the Voter's Guide.

"I have been an educator for 30 years and I have served many years in a leadership role. Those roles required decisions that involved budgeting, marketing, performance schedules, equipment, personnel, curriculum, compliance with state requirements, safety, morale, parent communication, personnel and more ... I am a product of community college and have taught at a community college.

"As a Board member at Mt. Hood Community College, I will continue to make decisions with an equity lens. I will always work to keep college affordable, academic, and I will continue to strive to make the college the cultural hub of the community."

COURTESY PHOTO - Courtney Helstein

Position 6, at large

Diane C. Noriega vs. Courtney Helstein

Noriega, a former MHCC director, was interim president of California State University, Monterey Bay. Helstein is a political consultant and is a commissioner on the city of Portland's Open and Accountable Elections.

The Outlook: Why do you want to be a member of the MHCC Board of Education?

Noriega: I am a true believer in the mission of the community college. MHCC provides workforce development and training, which in turn, supports the economic health of our region. I served on the MHCC education board from 2011-2015 and was chair of the board for two of those four years. As someone who comes from a long career in higher education, I found serving on the board gratifying and inspirational. I am looking forward to serving again.

Helstein: My higher education story is one of high cost and high debt. I balanced a full course load and worked 30-plus hours a week throughout college, still graduating with over $40,000 of debt. I'm all too familiar with the strain that student loan payments place on my ability to save for my future.

I want to bring this lived experience to the MHCC Board of Education. Decisions impacting students should be made by someone who personally understands the consequences and is committed to bringing that experience to the table.

The Outlook: What are the two biggest challenges facing the college?

Noriega: Enrollment at MHCC has been declining over the years. This has resulted in decreased funding from the state. The result is that tuition has increased to cover the increasing cost of providing quality instruction. Oregon's Promise and financial aid have helped the neediest students with tuition but it falls short when it comes to basic day-to-day living expenses. Plus, the financial situation has not been able to keep up with the cost of running a campus. The infrastructure of the college is 20 years overdue for needed upgrades. The two biggest challenges and how to resolve them? Advocate for more funding at the state level and pass a bond for needed infrastructure improvements.

Helstein: MHCC tuition is 27% higher than the national average for community colleges. Affordability is a problem that requires increased investment. As an advocate in Salem, I understand the budget process and hold strong lawmaker relationships that are necessary to advance the funding needs of MHCC.

Secondly, MHCC needs to pass a bond to fund infrastructure projects on campus that will support our educators. I am an experienced campaign manager and fundraiser and have worked to pass local bonds and levies like the recent Metro housing bond and the Beaverton School District levy renewal which passed with over 70% support. This experience is critical to any future MHCC bond referral.  

COURTESY PHOTO - Christine (Teena) Klawa-Ainslie

Position 7, at large

Tamie Tlustos-Arnold vs. LaVerne Lewis vs. Christine (Teena) Klawa-Ainslie

Arnold, an incumbent, is a consultant and pursuing a degree in healthcare administration. Lewis is the director of the nonprofit Rockwood Center and an adjunct faculty member at MHCC, a position she cannot hold if elected. Lewis said she would resign as an MHCC instructor if elected. Klawa-Ainslie, an incumbent, is retired.

COURTESY PHOTO -  LaVerne Lewis The Outlook: Why do you want to be a member of the MHCC Board of Education?

Arnold: I am proud to say I am a MHCC graduate. The education and extracurricular experiences at MHCC changed the course of my life. There are no words to express my gratitude, only action. I am running because I want to give back to the institution that has given me so much. I have worked hard as a board member and would appreciate the opportunity to continue to build upon my accomplishments

COURTESY PHOTO - Tamie Tlustos-Arnold Lewis: I am running for MHCC Board because I am passionate about enhancing our students' learning experiences and their academic success. As a safety advocate, I am running because I believe that the administration, staff and students are entitled to a safe campus, and I can work to insure campus safety; as a career accountant, I can work to ensure wise use of tax dollars and to champion affordable tuition, and as a dedicated educator, I will work to support and empower students. I bring expertise on the many roles of a board director, in policy making, analyzing budgets and will represent the college, on campus and at large, to champion the college's vision and objectives.

Ainslie: I want to remain on the Mt. Hood Board of Education because of my concern about the Legislature's resistance to fund community colleges in Oregon. The community college is the gateway to many graduating students' first job, first entrance to higher education and continuing education, which is the basis to establishing a solid career pathway. We need to encourage this especially at the high school level. It is critical to the entry level workforce. The community college system works more closely with industry than universities and is a critical entry level for our upcoming workforce.  

The Outlook: What are the two biggest challenges facing the college?

Arnold: Our biggest challenge is a stable general fund. Every two years the legislature convenes and we hope that the governor and Legislature value affordable education as much as our students and community does. This year when the governor presented her budget, she gave community colleges less than what was allocated the previous biennium. What does that mean? It means increased tuition, program cuts and instructional reductions. I have been meeting with legislators, writing letters and building collaborative partnerships for the college to help advocate for our college. Another challenge MHCC faces is our capital improvement budget. It is severely underfunded. That means we don't have the financial resources to do things like replace expensive equipment (like heating systems or radio transmitters), repave our parking lots, or provide much-needed security updates. It is a disservice to our community investment to not take care of it.

Lewis: With the possibility of budget cuts for community colleges at the state level for 2019-2021, the two biggest challenges facing the college (are) the stability of funding dollars and a sustainable revenue stream that does not jeopardize the integrity and the academic quality of current services, programs and tuition. As a future MHCC Board member, I am committed to exploring all possibilities to these difficult challenges because I strongly believe all students are entitled to academic success.

Thank you for your support.

Ainslie: The biggest challenges for the community colleges are the funding sources, which goes along with the understanding of the importance of the community college position in the educational system and because the source of the funding has not passed a bond issue since 1974 because of the funding source, the property owners. This must be addressed.

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