ACC Board Elections: Meet the Candidates

The candidates on taxing districts, remedial boot camps, and student culture

Elections for three seats on the Austin Community College board of trustees are coming up on May 8 (early voting is April 26-May 4). Two seats are contested: Four candidates are vying for Place 5 (to fill the vacancy created when Raul Alvarez left to run for Travis County Commissioner) and three for Place 6 (vacant since September, when Veronica Rivera quit to become an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund). Place 4 incumbent Jeffrey Kyle Richard is unchallenged. Thumbnail sketches of the candidates follow.

Place 5

Fred L. McGhee (www.fredmcghee.com)

McGhee is a Navy veteran, maritime archaeologist, and immigrant (he came from Germany at age 10), and says his "combination of skills, knowledge, experience, [and] a compelling life story" makes him "an outstanding person to serve on the board of a community college."

McGhee says he wishes to address two major issues: graduation rates and remedial education.

On the former: "Community college enrollments and attendance have been looked at from the perspective of access. That's one of the reasons community colleges were created, and part of the mission, but the problem is we've gotten focused on quantity and have forgotten about quality. The truth is a huge percentage of the people who enroll in ACC as freshmen still don't have a degree or certificate of any kind six years later." (The Texas Tribune recently reported that number for ACC as 75%, for the years 2001-2007.)

On the latter, McGhee says that about two-thirds come to ACC unprepared, can't pass basic assessment tests, and get bogged down trying to remedy basic skills. "That's a stunning indictment," McGhee says. McGhee says the Navy's BOOST program helped him get up to speed and began him on a path that eventually resulted in a doctorate. He would like ACC to offer a similar "boot camp" that "will guarantee you'll pass any remedial test and you'll qualify for the program you want."

David S. Reiter (www.davidreiterforacc.com)

Reiter has served as a vice president and general counsel since 2003 for Luminex, a biotech company headquartered in Austin. He says he participated in an Austin Cham­ber of Commerce task force that examined Central Texas school districts, and "through that experience, I got passionate about education."

Reiter, whose kids are enrolled in Leander ISD, notes that "I'm the only person [in the race] that hasn't been an educator." But that's not a bad thing, he says: "I'm the only person with senior business experience. I think what ACC needs right now is some business acumen to design sound, long-term strategic plans, and that's what I do for a living."

He says those skills will be needed as ACC discusses expansion. "What we have to make sure we're doing is maintaining the quality of the current campuses and current education, because the new taxing districts are going to put pressure on ACC to build new facilities. They're going to need a long-range plan to bring in enough revenue to help that happen, because what they don't want to do is just increase fees for students or raise taxes too high, which I think will be the fallback if they overbuild."

He also says, "The state has to step up more to fund colleges like ACC," and thinks the endorsements he's picked up from state Reps. Mark Strama and Patrick Rose could help cultivate relationships at the Capitol.

Vic Villarreal (www.vicforacc.com)

Villarreal has been an adjunct professor of management at ACC since 2005, a community volunteer, and is a former mayor pro tem of Leander. He also says that as a Latino Ph.D., he can be a role model in a region that is increasingly Hispanic.

"That, I think, offers the best balance of skills and traits to be an ACC trustee," Villarreal says. "I offer the experience of real-life policy-making." Villarreal says the expansion that Leander underwent during his term on its city council has prepared him for the challenges sure to come with ACC's proposed expansion.

He says that Austin is "a city of lifelong learners – a lot of folks are going to go to ACC who might not even be thinking about it right now." To continue that quality, ACC must "maintain our tuition at a level that's affordable. I know and I believe that low tuition is actually the best form of financial aid out there to begin with. ... We need to not tinker with tuition. There are other areas we can draw funds in. I've dealt with municipal budgets. I know there are other areas we can look at."

Villarreal has the endorsement of the ACC teachers union.

Davis Jones (www.davisjones.org)

"I want to be on the board because I'm a student at ACC," says Davis Jones. "Since I'm here, I know the issues well. Students have no representative on the board."

The 26-year-old says the student dropout rate is a major concern for him: "Some of our classes are only half full by the end of the semester." He says that could be changed, at least in part, with "a student-focused culture – an expansion of student life. We need a culture at ACC where the culture is familiar, an experience that people expect out of a college."

The former music business professional, who is studying government and environmental science and has also lived in China and Chile, says that he would address the dropout problem "by working with other board members to create a program to mentor severely struggling students, and a program to get grants to students that show promise." The latter, he said, would address what he says is the major cause of dropouts: The need to get a job to make ends meet.

Place 6

Guadalupe Sosa (www.lupesosa.com)

Sosa is a retired accountant and auditor with the state Health Department and a longtime community and Democratic Party activist. The accomplishment she's quickest to point out: "I have been involved with ACC about eight years, and I was instrumental in getting the South Austin campus built. ... I think it has been a great thing we did for the residents of South Austin and especially for the Crockett High School kids."

It was Sosa's time as an ACC student, she says, that allowed her to change careers and go into her eventual occupation. "I think I have a lot of experience that could be beneficial that is not in the board right now," Sosa says of her accounting experience.

"ACC needs to get more school districts into the taxing district," Sosa says. "Not only because everyone needs to pay their fair share, but because when a school district comes into the taxing district, the tuition [for children from that district] is greatly reduced. ... My greatest concern is that we help low-income and working-class people train or retrain, and get the means and skills to move up to a better-paying job. I know from experience if you're working three jobs, you don't have time for family or to get involved in your community."

Raymond Hartfield (www.hartfieldforacc.com)

"I'm a community college graduate, and it's how I started my education, which culminated in two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree," says Raymond Hartfield. "I'm convinced that if it weren't for that junior college, I would not have gone to college. That opportunity and affordability for first-time college students is essential."

Hartfield has experience in the board role, having served on the Round Rock ISD school board from 1994 to 2008. He also has two children who formerly attended ACC.

Hartfield says his two main priorities on the board would be maintaining low tuition and helping ACC through trying financial times. "Do we expand to new territories and build new facilities, or do we expand existing facilities and get as much economies of scale as possible?" he asked rhetorically.

Hartfield is the director of educational markets for AT&T in 11 states including Texas, but he says that shouldn't pose a conflict of interest for him. He says during his tenure at RRISD it came up only a couple of times, and he recused himself from pertinent votes.

Michael Perrine

[Editor's note: This section on Michael Perrine differs from the printed version, and was updated on May 3.]

“I am ACC,” says Michael Perrine. The financial professional says this because he graduated from UT 20 years ago with a degree in finance, and like so many Austinites, has turned to ACC for continuing education. Two and a half years ago he started back at night school, and takes at least six hours per semester in the professional accounting program.

“I have a keen understanding I think of the issues that are facing the district with respect to growth,” he says. “What’s important to finance, and what’s not important to finance.

“I favor [expansion] in the right way,” Perrine says. “Right now I’m not sure we’re doing it the right way currently. We need to understand growth and what’s making up growth. Enrollment is up at an all-time high right now because of the economy. It’s because people are in for retraining. That’s great, but we have to not to overexpand and just believe the tax dollars will come. I work with bonds, and I’ve seen municipalities not be able to finance their debt.

“I want to be sure ACC doesn’t grow at the expense of our current campuses,” Perrine says. Perrine says he takes classes at several ACC campuses including Rio Grande, “and I can’t begin to calculate the amount of deferred maintenance,” he says. And while that campus goes lacking, Round Rock just got a brand-new campus after it joined the district. Perrine says joining the district shouldn’t immediately guarantee a campus in that community. “If that’s the model, I’m not so sure it works.”

Place 4

Jeffrey Kyle Richard (unchallenged incumbent)

Among his accomplishments since 2004, Richard lists "clean" audit opinions every year since 2005 and the removal of ACC from a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools watch list for board interference and teacher credentialing problems. He also touts conservative budgeting and plaudits from Time magazine for ACC's academic success. He anticipates property tax declines, administrative leadership transition, continued attention to minority enrollment, and expanding the tax base as the biggest challenges for the next board.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

elections, Austin Community College, Fred L. McGhee, David S. Reiter, Vic Villarreal, Davis Jones, Guadalupe Sosa, Raymond Hartfield, Jeffrey Kyle Richard

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