Arellano goes up against 12-year Gav trustee Mark Dover

Rochelle Arellano

Three seats on the Gavilan College Board of Trustees are up for grabs in the November election, one each in the Gilroy, Morgan Hill and San Benito County areas.

Candidate Rochelle Arellano, 58  – one of two locals racing for the Gilroy seat –  is a freelance writer and English translator who was previously married to Gilroy City Councilman Peter Arellano. She was unavailable due to schedule conflicts when the paper first reported on Gavilan incumbents Mark Dover of Gilroy, Tom Breen of Hollister and Jonathan Brusco of Morgan Hill. Breen and Brusco are running uncontested.

Arellano is running against Dover, 46, who teaches student government and serves as Student Activities Director at Salinas High School. Dover is a lifelong Gilroy resident who served on the Gavilan Board of Education for 12 years and counting.

Arellano has been in and out of Gilroy since 1976 before permanently settling in the Garlic Capital 22 years ago. She is a former human resources coordinator with Germain Seed Technology in Gilroy and previously served as a program specialist at the University of New Mexico. She describes herself as “very effective with any job that involves facilitating change and bringing people together around issues to discuss and find innovative ways of solving problems.”

Arellano has two daughters, Bernardette, 32 and Belen, 31. The siblings – who both graduated from Princeton University – took additional enrichment classes at Gavilan while attending Gilroy High School. Nieces and nephews of Arellano have also attended Gavilan.  

“This is a time to give back in gratitude,” she said, when asked why she decided to run. “Gavilan has always been a part of our family’s past.”

Arellano praises junior colleges as providing an affordable means of quality education; offering a “middle path” for those who encounter unexpected changes in their family life or financial situation; and being an ideal starting point for students who aren’t sure what they want to major in – thus “offering a little bit wider glimpse of the dashboard of what’s available to them in the future.”

One issue facing the Gavilan’s School Board last year was the widespread disapproval over President Kinsella’s new four-year contract, which trustees approved Oct. 26, 2011 in a 6-1 vote. The salary hike – which came after Kinsella was named a finalist for the chancellor post at West Valley-Mission Community College District – gradually bumps Kinsella’s base pay by $42,000 through 2015. He would also receive a $31,500 lump sum if he stays with the college until that point.

The board’s decision prompted community outcry over the “outrageous” raise, followed by dozens of letters to the editor.

Arellano, however, said she does not have sufficient background details surrounding the board’s decision to take a stance on the issue.

Generally speaking, Arellano believes the question of raises and bonuses should be considered with everything else in mind, such as what Kinsella has brought to the school since becoming president/superintendent in 2003, as well as the current economic climate.

“What is happening in the economy is rough,” she said. “I think the best message any administrator can send to their staff is, ‘we’re with you on this as well.’”

For example, if the college were implementing spending cuts to personnel, student services and programs, “it’s only fair that all of those people are affected as a team,” she reasoned. “I don’t think administrators are in a separate category from ‘need to scale back.’”

Had the chancellor position offer come up “any other time…we probably would have allowed him to take that opportunity,” said Dover, who voted to approve the raise. “But we felt this was too big of a risk for the district.”

A lack of administrators who are qualified for the job of president is the problem with the structure of community colleges, Dover explains.

“Going through the horrible economic downturn we went through and continued cutbacks to community colleges, we did not want an inexperienced president coming in and trying to lead the college at this time,” he continued. “That’s why other districts are recruiting Steve…he might be the way they can navigate through the same problem. We are one of the few colleges that have been able to avoid any cuts in staff or drastic courses of action. We’re not willing to risk the health of the community college with an unproven president.”

Originally established in 1919 as San Benito County Junior College, Gavilan College operated under this title until 1963 – when a new community college district was drawn that included South Santa Clara and San Benito counties. The Gavilan Joint Community College District is now comprised of 2,700 square miles with three locations in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Hollister. Gilroy serves as the main campus, where 2,014 full-time and 3,217 part-time students currently attend school. Trustees on the seven-member board serve four-year terms.

As for future improvements to the main Gavilan facility, Arellano wants to tighten campus security and implement structural upgrades that reflect current American Disability Association standards.

She would like to see the “mother” campus in Gilroy get a “solar overhaul” by looking into ways it can “put power on the grid, instead of taking it off the grid.”  

Another vision she plans on bringing to the board, if elected, is finding ways to increase endowment funds and financial support from the Gavilan alumni populace, as well as the communities being served by Gavilan.

In terms of facilities improvements, Dover calls attention to the bigger picture.

“The college has been in a position where it’s had too many students for what was built in the Gilroy campus,” he said, underlining the need for additional satellite locations in the coming years.

Instead of building additional classrooms on the Gavilan campus, however, “it’s probably in the district’s best interest to have those satellites so people don’t have to travel to go to Gilroy,” said Dover. “We’re trying to solve that piece of the puzzle for people.”

Having been rooted at Gavilan since he was a student and baseball player there in 1984 prior to becoming a Gavilan coach and teacher, Dover isn’t “running as a politician.”

“I’m running as a longtime family member of the college,” said Dover, who has also served as the student activities coordinator at North County Monterey High School. “I love the institution. It’s just been part of me…I went straight from being a student playing ball, to coaching, to working there and being a board member. I’ve been there for a long time.”

Seeking change in what had been “a downward spiral” at Gavilan more than a decade ago is what initially prompted Dover to run for a spot on the school board in 2000. After witnessing the college go through “really ugly times” marked by layoffs and canceling programs, Dover said his commitment to “protecting safeguards that have been put in place so the college isn’t subjected to that again” is what keeps him coming back, term after term.

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