When asked to name a common misconception Sonoma County residents have about the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees, candidate John Kelly quips: “That it exists.”
Kelly is challenging incumbent trustee Jeff Kunde for the Sonoma Valley voting district’s seat on the SRJC board that operates largely off the radar of the average county voter. Even Kunde concedes: “The general public does not know who we are or what we do.”
But perhaps they should. The SRJC board of trustees is comprised of seven elected members from the county’s seven electoral districts – they compose the governing body that guides the direction of the 24,000-student community college as it enters its second century offering advanced education to North Bay residents. Roughly 50 percent of county high school graduates enroll in Santa Rosa Junior College and about 80 percent of its transfer students are accepted to a four-year university, according to SRJC officials.
So whether you’re a graduating high school senior, a single parent hoping to see your kids through college, or an adult enrolling to pursue a second career – the folks steering Sonoma’s community college ship should matter plenty.
If there were such thing as an SRJC hat trick, Jeff Kunde would have pulled it off: He attended the junior college, he’s taught at it, and he is now seeking his fourth term as trustee since winning a seat on the board in 2006. Heck, he even says all three of his now-grown kids have attended the JC. The Mendocino Avenue campus has certainly played a big role in the lives of the Kundes (yes, they of Kunde Family Winery).
In his 12 years on the board, Kunde cites multiple accomplishments in which he’s played a part, including, he says, hiring capable teams of senior executives and deans (and current President Frank Chong), implementing the $410 million Measure H bond program for tech and facility upgrades and advocating for increased educational services in the Sonoma Valley.
Much of that Measure H bond money, he says, went toward modernizing the campus’s Burbank Theatre, its athletic facilities, constructing a new STEM building and upgrading the college’s computers and technology.
“And despite the devastating October 2017 wildfires,” says Kunde, “in 2018 SRJC granted the largest number of degrees in its 100-year history.”
Kunde is particularly proud of helping support the Wine Studies program and the SRJC Shone Farm, which has now developed vineyards that produce and sell more than $1 million in grapes per year to support the farm’s operations.
If he wins a fourth term, Kunde says he would continue to lobby the state legislature for additional fire-relief funding (they’ve already secured three years’ worth), further the JC’s efforts to diversify its workforce and ensure low-income students access to the “financial aid and support services they need to persist and succeed.”
“A great community college serves the needs of the people in the district,” Kunde told the Index-Tribune. “I believe in continuous improvement and to change with the needs of the people and education.”
John Kelly is challenging the incumbent for his Sonoma Valley seat on the SRJC board in order to help the junior college “adapt to a rapidly shifting (workforce) landscape.”
“We are looking at major workforce transitions happening in a very short period of time,” says Kelly. “And that may really be the ‘new normal.’”