SBCC Incumbent Taking It to the Streets

Interview with Trustee Des O’Neill at Farmers Market

SBCC Board of Trustees incumbents (L to R) Des O'Neill, Sally Green, and Dr. Joe Dobbs campaign at the Farmers Market Sat Sept. 4, 2010
Paul Wellman

It seems that everyone has something invested in the Santa Barbara City College Board of Trustees race. In speaking to people around town, as well as the candidates, it is very apparent that SBCC, and whatever happens there, is close to all of our hearts.

Last week The Independent attended a meet-and-greet for the four candidates challenging the long-standing incumbents. This week we talked to Des O’Neill, one of the incumbents, at Saturday morning’s Farmers Market. O’Neill, who’s been on the board since 1994, was standing there at 7:30 am with a welcoming smile and a sign reading SBCC Board of Trustees, awaiting Santa Barbara’s early risers.

He immediately invoked a thoughtful and comprehensive response to many of the points the challengers are making, as well as the press they are receiving.

“This needs to be an issues race, not a race where you vote for someone that you know,” O’Neill began, expressing his fear that the general population will vote for the opposing team, which includes Marty Blum, who just left office after two terms as mayor. He’s also concerned that people will vote in reaction to the state budget rather than the record of current board, which he feels is pretty much impeccable.

It’s not just O’Neill and his fellow board members who feel this way, he reiterated. It is also the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a team of experts in community college education, which in a recent evaluation noted that “Santa Barbara City College has a remarkable stable and effective Board of Trustees. All of the evidence leads to the team’s conclusion that the Board provides effective policy leadership for the college…”

When asked what exactly he means by “making this an issues race,” O’Neill touched on an issue Blum brought up, about communication and community. Whereas Blum advocated the use of an “open office hours” for the board, O’Neill explained that the board is not structured for that. It is not, he said, a “complaint bureau.” In fact, he explained, one of the first things a boardmember learns is that communication lines from the community to the board are not direct, that there is a grievance structure that must be abided by.

Some of the discussion in this race has revolved around SBCC’s general fund reserves, which stood at the end of the 2009-10 fiscal year at $22.3 million in general fund reserves. Where some question the lack of spending when classes are being cut, O’Neill said, he is proud of the healthy reserve fund and stressed the current trustees’ fiscal responsibility as a significant contribution to SBCC’s financial stability.

“Ensuring cash flow, with the budget issues in the capitol, is something that allows SBCC to pay its bills,” O’Neill emphasized, noting that once those reserve funds are spent, there are no more backups.

With regard to the Parent-Child Workshops that challengers and others in the community have expressed concern over, O’Neill pointed to legal problems regarding each workshop’s status as a separate nonprofit 501c corporation. Though it can be used for adults, state law does not allow community college funding to be used for preschools, he said, nor can the college funding be funneled to nonprofits.

More than anything else, O’Neill worried that this race will be forgotten in the midst of such a historic voting season in California and the greater United States. Certainly there are many issues on the table for all Californians this September and October, but Santa Barbara loves its City College and this race will choose its leaders.


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