Accreditation top priority for Merced College trustees

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comNovember 20, 2012 

— Merced College will soon have four new faces on its Board of Trustees.

All new trustees say they share the same priorities -- getting the college off academic warning status with its accreditation and continuing to ensure it has a solid budget.

Solving the accreditation issue has to be the No. 1 priority, said trustee-elect Wayne Hicks, 71, from Merced.

"I'm really concerned about the accreditation report that we have at the college," added trustee-elect Gary Arzamendi, 50, from Atwater.

Three of the four new trustees -- Hicks, Arzamendi and Jean Upton -- will be sworn in Dec. 4 during the board's regularly scheduled meeting, said Merced College President Ron Taylor. The fourth trustee will be appointed during today's board meeting and will take his seat on the board in January.

The appointment comes after Merced College Trustee Eugene Vierra resigned last month. His resignation goes into effect Dec. 5.

Vierra, from Los Banos, served on the board for 18 years and was a part-time instructor at the college for 22 years. He decided to step down to spend more time with his wife and family.

The two candidates for the Area 5 trustee appointment include Michael Amabile and Joe Gutierrez of Los Banos.

The college had two options: appoint a new trustee or hold a special meeting. Taylor said a special meeting could have cost the college $10,000 to $20,000.

A majority of the trustees are new, so the college will have a "golden" opportunity to follow one of the accreditation recommendations -- to provide training and board development, Taylor said. The outgoing trustees dedicated many years to the college, and he hopes the new board can come together to solve problems.

"It's good to have fresh faces," Taylor said. "It's gives us a chance to orient them as a group for them to come together to address the issues of the college."

Upton said she has 42 years of experience in education as a teacher and administrator. She said her experience "can't hurt" in helping the college address two of its most pressing issues.

"I would like to see us get off academic warning," she said.

Hicks said the college is on a good path to resolve its accreditation issues, to the best of his knowledge. "They just have to remain on track," he said. "I believe the college is going to be all right, in my opinion."

A draft of a report that addresses the college's recommendations from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is circulating among staff, Taylor said.

The board will approve the report in January or February. It will then be submitted to the commission, Taylor said. Representatives from the commission will visit the campus after March 15, but the college won't know the final decision on its accreditation status until July.

The college is also going to have to continue to find ways to become more effective and efficient in times of budget constraints, said Hicks, who will have to resign from his position of instructional support technician at the college to be on the board.

"I was willing to give up my job and income as an instructional support technician to actually help the college," he said.

One thing he doesn't want to see is an increase in student fees. "They are pretty high right now," he said.

Arzamendi agreed by saying he's going to work to help keep tuition costs down without sacrificing the educational quality.

"I'm looking forward to having conversations with the faculty, our new president and with the students," he said. "And I am very excited to serve in this capacity, and I am looking forward to helping to continue to shape Merced College into the best affordable quality educational campus in the valley."

Vierra said the new board has challenges ahead. Even with the passage of Proposition 30, the college can still face budget trouble. "Survival is important, especially for the Los Banos campus," he said.

"They've got a substantial task because money is still short. There's always issues to resolve and there's always conflicts," he said. "When you have people from various interest groups, there's going to be conflict, but that's inevitable in any organization."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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