2 running for seat on community college district board

Daily Post Staff Writer

Two newcomers will face off for a seat on the San Mateo County Community College District board of trustees.

Menlo Park resident John Pimentel and Redwood City resident Lisa Hicks-Dumanske will vie for District 5, which covers Redwood City, part of Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

In 2017, the college board, under threat of lawsuit, switched the way its five-member board of trustees is elected. Previously, the board was elected through “at large” elections, in which all voters could vote on all five members, two in one election and three in the next election two years later.

Under this new system, the county-wide college district has been chopped up into five wards, and each board member must represent a geographical ward.

Now, instead of voting for all five trustees, voters only get to select one trustee every four years.

Trustee Karen Schwarz lives in District 5, but has announced her plans to retire after 24 years on the board.

She has since endorsed Hicks-Dumanske, the candidate said.

The winner in November will oversee a district that has been rocked in scandal. The board fired longtime chancellor Ron Galatolo in August and District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe announced his investigators were looking into Galatolo handling of contracts and claims of harassment. In 2019, Galatolo kept the board in the dark about an error that prevented the college district from collecting $140 million from an FCC auction of its TV station, KCSM. Prior to that, the public was outraged when it was revealed that a new recreation center, funded with bond money, had become a private athletic club.

About the candidates

Hicks-Dumanske is the executive director of the Redwood City Library Foundation, and was on the city’s library commission for seven years. She received her associate’s degree from Canada College in Redwood City. Among her goals for the district is to strengthen the relationship between the high schools in the district and the colleges, and letting students know that community college is a viable choice after high school.

Pimentel has worked in the renewable energy business for about 20 years. He is also a graduate of a community college, San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, and later got a bachelor’s degree from Berkeley and an MBA from Harvard.

His primary goal is to increase the transparency of the district. He said it is “unconscionable” that the district does not televise its board meetings and believes that the board needs to move away from the enterprise functions that have taken over the district and make the district much more student focused.

Mandelkern running again

Two current board members, Dave Mandelkern and Maurice Goodman, live in District 3, which spans from southwest South San Francisco to Hillsborough.

Mandelkern said he is planning on running, while Goodman did not return a message from the Post.

So far, no one has announced that they are running for District 1, which represents the county’s coastside south of Daly City, and includes San Carlos, Woodside, Atherton, Portola Valley and part of Menlo Park.

1 Comment

  1. When I was a teenage, we would say, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” As I’ve become more political, I’ve realized, “Don’t trust anyone serving as an elected official for a quarter century!”

    Karen Schwarz began her tenure on the San Mateo County Community College District Board of Trustees in 1995. That was before most of the District’s students were born. Throughout her tenure, she has been an avid supporter of the former chancellor Ron Galatolo, who is still handsomely paid as “chancellor emeritus” while on administrative leave. That, in and of itself, should make voters suspicious of candidates Ms. Schwarz endorses for public office.

    Karen Schwarz was a District trustees when Ron Galatolo was elevated in 2002 from an interim position as chancellor to the permanent position. He reigned for nineteen years over a district “that has been rocked in scandal” according to the Palo Alto Daily Post.

    His appointment was plagued by controversy from the start. The Board, of which Ms. Schwarz was a member, was accused of violating hiring guidelines with Galatolo’s selection by the Community College State Chancellor. The Board voted to confront and sue the State Chancellor and the California Community College Board of Governors. It took the wisdom of the faculty and local politicos to deescalate this controversy. This episode alone should make one suspicious of the decision-making sagacity and prudence of trustees (Board minutes only go back to 2005, so I have reviewed secondary sources on the matter).

    To book end this beginning, Mr. Galatolo’s exit as chancellor also raised eyebrows concerning Board members’ behavior. Because of a non-disclosure clause, neither side can discuss the nature of their separation. However, in “An arrangement to conceal — separation agreement prevents officials from explaining Galatolo’s removal” (Mibach, September 4, 2019), the separation agreement stated that “disputes arose between the (district and Galatolo) regarding their employment relationship.”

    While college chancellors and Boards often have a fallings out, usually the chancellor is given a six month’s severance (Laguerre at Peralta) or a year’s salary (Rocha at CCSF) and is gone. In contrast, SMCCCD’s Board of Trustees gave Galatolo the most amazing going away present.

    First, they rehired him for a non-existent position and gave him the honorary title of Chancellor Emeritus in violation of Board policy. They extended his contract until March of 2022 for $1.2 million plus all benefits and perks to do a job with duties limited to a non-existent project. Most surprising, the Board “held harmless” Mr. Galatolo for past infractions as chancellor and gave its authority to a third-party to fire him as Chancellor Emeritus.

    All of this while under the watchful eye of Trustee Schwarz, one of Galatolo’s strongest supporters.

    Therefore, would I, in my personal and professional opinion, vote for a candidate she supports? Not unless I wanted more of the same. And, the District already has that when it recently appointed long-time SMCCCD employee Mike Claire as the new chancellor to follow in Galatolo’s footsteps.

    Guess what? Mr. Galatolo in his role as chancellor emeritus reports solely to his old buddy and subordinate, Chancellor Claire. That was the last act of Board President Schwarz.

    Michael B. Reiner, PhD, is a higher education consultant and educational researcher. Previously, he was a professor of psychology and college administrator at City University of New York (CUNY), Miami Dade College, the Riverside Community College District, and SMCCCD. He can be reached at [email protected]

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