Community Board: Gavilan leadership change is long past due

Gavilan Collage officials from left Kent Child, Steve Kinsella, Laura Perry and Tom Breen are shown here when they allowed Gavilan College's aviation program to leave the Hollister airport.

The future of Gavilan College leadership is completely up in the air, and that’s a good thing for San Benito County.
President Steve Kinsella is on the way out, recently announcing his retirement set for June of next year, and the board of trustees is preparing to experience a shakeup due to a new district alignment on the November 2016 ballot.
Any alteration in representation is better than the leadership this county has received from the seven trustees or Kinsella since he took over the local community college’s top spot—paying close to an outrageous $300,000 in annual salary plus another outrageous $51,243 in benefits—in 2002.
Kinsella has led the college through a variety of circumstances since he started in the role. From a San Benito County perspective—particularly pertaining to local campus expansion—he has done an extraordinarily poor job and it is a positive sign that he is departing such an influential, important role.
Kinsella, for 13 years, fostered a domineering level of influence over board members—especially, inexplicably, most of those from San Benito County—and over every important step taken by the community college district.
If anyone wants evidence of Kinsella’s dismissiveness toward San Benito County, look at the way he has handled the supposedly planned expansion of Gavilan offerings in the San Benito County area—much of the voter-approved, $108 million bond for satellite campus expansion has been washed away on pet projects such as the coming police academy in Coyote Valley—and recall his actions leading to the departure of the school’s aviation program in 2010 over a petty rent dispute at the Hollister Municipal Airport after nearly a half-century at the site for the college, which actually started in Hollister. Again, he was dismissive and walked away from a lease negotiation without a reasonable explanation to reflect such an historic transition. Want more evidence about Kinsella’s attitude toward local interests? Look at his and the board’s cavalier attitudes toward local League of United Latin American Citizens officials who presented their own recommendation for new district lines as Gavilan trustees considered an altered map in recent months. Although the entire process was meant to ensure adequate rights for protected minority groups such as Latinos, Kinsella and other Gavilan leaders once again dismissed the primary Latino interest—LULAC—which had been offering a collective voice on the matter.
Need more yet? Then consider his general resistance of a downtown presence at the Leatherback site despite the reality that the vast majority of local interests have overwhelmingly, consistently favored the more progressive downtown approach.
Kinsella’s stubbornness is close to a thing of the past, so it’s time for San Benito County’s power players to really push for a successor and future elected leaders—despite the possible loss of a seat on the board—to truly consider local students and voters’ desires.
Local residents generally want a centralized, downtown Gavilan campus that can start as a smaller Education Center and grow into a full campus. The idea of placing such a campus on the outskirts of town—and leaving the poorest west-side students facing the longest journey to school—is outdated, ludicrous, intellectually offensive and could be perceived as racist. A downtown Gavilan College campus would benefit the entire community by offering an easily accessible location near services and shops and other places that would experience ancillary, positive impacts from all the energy and activity of younger people seeking a better life.
While local residents—and one former trustee, Tony Ruiz—have been complaining over the lack of Gavilan leadership interest in a downtown site, Kinsella and friends have been spending down the $108 million in Measure E bond money approved by voters in 2004. Enough so that Ruiz and others wrote a letter last summer requesting the college cease the use of $17 million in Measure E funds toward a planned police academy in Coyote Valley that hadn’t been on the original blueprints presented to local voters.
As for the trustees, the redistricting will result in the automatic dismissal of longtime Trustee Tom Breen next year after his fourth, four-year term on the board. It also could lead to a further shakeup and, perhaps, the departure of another longtime trustee, Kent Child, on the board for the past decade since an initial appointment.
These aren’t necessarily bad changes for San Benito County residents interested in progressing the status of local offerings, as Child and Breen have rubber stamped most of Kinsella’s wishes, including, it appears, the resistance of moving toward a full downtown campus.
Frankly, we have all failed at electing representatives with the will to take the reins over the college president, as intended, and make decisions that are best for this area.
Despite the fact that San Benito County in some years has sent more students to Gavilan College than either Gilroy or Morgan Hill—the other main areas in the district—voters might be better off with one fewer representative, as long as the remaining two are truly looking out for our students’ needs.

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