Enterprise Reporter Davis Harper reached out with questions for the two candidates vying for Trustee Area 5 of the San Joaquin Delta Community (SJDC) College District.
The candidates are Bruce Giudici, resident of Valley Springs, and two-term incumbent Stephan Castellanos, also of Valley Springs.
Formerly an at-large election, where voters across all seven areas of the district elect representatives for each seat, this year’s election will be decided by electoral district.
Area 5 includes eastern San Joaquin County and the northern half of Calaveras County, including Rancho Calaveras, Valley Springs, San Andreas, Mountain Ranch, Rail Road Flat, and West Point, among other communities.
The district owns and operates two colleges in San Joaquin County – one in Stockton and the other in Mountain House.
Questions and responses are below.
Calaveras Enterprise: Multiple Calaveras County Grand Jury reports have recommended the county secede from the SJDC college district. These reports cite the $250 million Measure L, a bond measure that promised a higher education facility in the Mother Lode/Foothills area. Plans for such a facility have been terminated from the list of bond projects, but it’s been reported that the bond could end up costing local taxpayers more than $10 million for facilities outside of the county by its 2029 expiration date. What value does participating in the district provide county taxpayers and how would you improve that value as a trustee?
Stephan Castellanos: I believe the citizens of the county I live in were misled by a former SJDC board prior to my election. As a school architect, I am very familiar with the proper delivery of bond programs. The first rule is to not over-promise and under-deliver. While $250 million dollars seems to be a huge sum, it never was enough to cover the total cost of an overly ambitious bond program that was relying on continued growth of the district to succeed. A new college center will cost anywhere between $100-150 million and as many as three were proposed in the measure. Another goal of Measure L was to address the rehabilitation and modernization needs of a 40-year-old campus in Stockton, another $100-200 million. Those needs have been partially addressed, but there is much more to do. Clearly there was never enough in the bond to address the wishes of voters and the needs of the district. The district cannot ever repeat this mistake. I was first elected in 2008, at the start of the largest recession since the Great Depression. One of the reasons I sought office was because of my opposition to how Measure L was being implemented by the former board. Upon my election, I advocated for an audit of Measure L by the state auditor. The audit revealed what others and I believed. The board prior to 2008 has mishandled the bond program. The same was confirmed by a San Joaquin County Grand Jury and finally the Calaveras County Grand Jury. It was also mentioned in the college accreditation report. However, the damage had been done. In my first term the economy came to a screeching halt, the college had to layoff staff. Like colleges across the country, Delta College has yet to fully recover. Measure L had allowed for changes if conditions changed, such as a lack of anticipated growth or budget shortfalls. Anticipated projects were put on hold. It is unknown what the impacts of the pandemic will be, but I do know that the boards and administrators I have served with since 2008 continue to support expanding service to Calaveras County as well as other underserved areas. Lastly, I supported a change in voting methods for Delta trustees, moving from a district-wide system to area representation. This change moves district control from urban areas and spreads it to the entire district.
Bruce Giudici: Due in large part to the silence of our current two-term incumbent trustee, Measure L has not delivered what was promised for Calaveras County. Because nobody made the case for Calaveras County, we have gotten nothing from the millions we have invested in Delta College. It is time for a change. Nobody is elected for life – and when our voice is not heard, it is time to change the voice. When elected, I will be that strong voice for our fiscal and educational interests. I will regularly connect with local educators, parents and students to create an action plan to reconnect Delta College with our community. At this point, we need to salvage what remains for Calaveras County and the rest of rural Area 5, after much of the spending from the bond has gone to what I consider wasteful infrastructure spending in Stockton.
CE: What experience do you have that qualifies you for this role?
Castellanos: I have been a practicing architect with a focus on public schools for nearly 40 years. Our firm has seen rises and falls in the economy and survived where many did not. I think an important qualification is to have made a payroll and run a successful business. My wife, Linda Derivi, also an architect and my business partner, and I are both California natives, and have lived in Calaveras County since 1982. In fact, the Derivi family first settled in Calaveras County in 1929. I have been active in my community and I was appointed by Governor Gray Davis to serve as the California State Architect. This position is charged with the responsibility to provide policy and regulation for California’s public buildings and public schools. Lastly, I have been a trustee for 12 years and have been actively involved with the Community College Trustee and the American Community College Trustee associations as a board member. Lastly, I was elevated to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects, an honorary recognition for contributions to the profession of architecture.
Giudici: I have worked in non-profit fiscal management for over 20 years – mostly for low-income populations such as that served by Delta College (Head Start, child care subsidy, emergency food and housing, energy assistance and more). I have a Masters in Agricultural and Managerial Economics from UC Davis and for five years I taught vocational accounting and business courses at the non-profit Heald Business College, as well as a few courses at Delta and Humphreys College. My strong work ethic is demonstrated by the many volunteer efforts I have taken part in, serving on at least one non-profit Board of Directors local to Stockton or Calaveras County, consistently for the past 36 years. I have extensive experience working with people of different backgrounds, enjoy the diversity of Delta College, and I have an even temper – getting along well with others, understanding how to get things done with minimal overt conflict.
CE: What would be your top priority as a trustee? What do you see as the greatest need for Calaveras County in particular in terms of higher education opportunities?
Castellanos: I have three top priorities. They are to maintain the fiscal health of Delta College, maintain the high quality of education SJDC is known for, and to assure equity for all students. SJDC will survive the current budget crisis with careful management. Since the last downturn, Delta College has maintenance for a rainy day that will be used through the recovery. Even with the changes required by the pandemic, teaching and learning continues with high quality, and degree completion, in some cases, can be achieved online. I am an advocate for equity and work to expand educational opportunity in all areas of the district. I represent Area 5 east of Highway 99 from Galt to Escalon. In the area I represent, SJDC is improving its agriculture program and farm in Manteca where classrooms have been updated and a barn has been replaced. Dual enrollment in high schools has been expanded through the district, allowing many students to graduate with a high school and a college diploma. SJDC has worked diligently to expand educational opportunities in Calaveras County, partnering with Columbia College, Calaveras Unified and the Calaveras Superintendent of Public Instruction. I have been encouraging the new Delta College president to continue this discussion and, despite the impacts of the pandemic, they are underway. Career technical classes should be explored and expanded.
Giudici: My top three priorities as Trustee are: 1. to actively advocate for the needs of Area 5 constituents; 2. to provide skilled fiscal oversight of Delta’s operations and budgets; and 3. to increase transparency in board operations. In Area 5, there is a lack of confidence in the Board to keep promises made – especially with respect to the Measure L Bond issue. We need new representation that cares about students and constituents, directly impacting declining enrollment. We need to actively encourage our students to enroll in Delta College.
CE: How will you work to improve access to classes for students?
Castellanos: A Community College Center is defined by the California Chancellor of Community Colleges as requiring an enrollment of 1,000 students to be eligible for state operation funding. Until that threshold is met, the operations of a center are met by the institution’s general fund, which is established through a state formula. Unlike K-12 education where headcount determines funding, community colleges are provided a headcount that will be funded by the chancellor. This is called CAP. A shortfall in CAP means a reduction in budget for the institution. That being said, many full-fledged centers are unlikely. This requires other strategies to deliver educational opportunities to all areas in the district. I believe that SJDC needs a physical presence of some type throughout Calaveras County and elsewhere. I also believe that we need to partner wherever possible to take advantage of shops, labs and classrooms already available. Teaching staff with the right credentials is needed to expand the ranks of those already in the county. Dual enrollment needs to expand with more offerings. Sharing facilities and working with government, business and industry is needed to expand student opportunities. Delta College is expanding student financial support, transportation and even housing support. I believe that we have to meet students where they are and not wait for them to simply come to where we are. I think we are learning that the expansion of online education itself has added to student access.
Giudici: Improving class access for students is my top priority. In the age of COVID, new remote-teaching methods will need to be embraced in a way that does not increase inequality of access that currently exists. Investment in increased broadband access will be needed for any long-term educational strategy we develop. In addition, we have opportunities to partner with local school districts in providing classroom space for a more extensive local Delta presence. The transition to college work can be made more seamless with increased cooperation. Neither our incumbent trustee nor administration has reached out to local districts. When elected, I will make certain we make meaningful connections with local educators, parents and students.