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December 6, 2023

Gavilan board candidates debate at forum

– Gavilan school board hopefuls stated their case to students
and members of the general public Thursday in a one-hour candidates
forum held at the community college campus.
GILROY – Gavilan school board hopefuls stated their case to students and members of the general public Thursday in a one-hour candidates forum held at the community college campus.

Taking questions from one another and from those in attendance, candidates were able to separate themselves on at least a few key campaign issues. Among them:

• Whether taxpayer dollars should fund future school improvements

• How to solve the campus parking crunch

• How to best manage anticipated budget cuts

The session was part of a political science course at the school. It was attended by roughly 50 students. Only four of the seven candidates participated in the debate. Three board of trustees seats are open, one for Gilroy, one for Morgan Hill and another for San Benito County. Terms will run four years.

The candidates in attendance were Mark Hinkle, a retired engineering manager vying for incumbent Laura Perry’s Hollister seat; and three candidates involved in the San Benito County race, James De La Cruz, an accountant; Rito Ramirez, a retired union representative; and incumbent Elvira Robinson.

Of the four only Hinkle, De La Cruz and Ramirez debated since Robinson had to leave the session early.

Taxpayer dollars and school improvements

Candidates were asked to comment on using bonds to pay for future school improvements by audience member Jim Rogers, president of the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Directors. Rogers directed his question to Hinkle who has opposed Gilroy efforts to use bonds to fund kindergarten through 12th-grade facilities improvements.

“You’re on the ballot as an opponent to our school bond. But it looks like Gavilan will need one to meet the needs of its students. Would you support a bond for Gavilan?” Rogers asked.

Hinkle said he has always opposed bond measures because he doesn’t believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund future improvements. Hinkle said school districts need to find other ways to generate revenue and districts should look within its existing budget first to make facility improvements.

The campus parking crunch

Responding to concerns that Gavilan parking space is maxed out at peak times, De la Cruz advocated the use of free vouchers for students using public transportation.

“Let’s do what’s best for the community and let’s not be anti-environment,” he said.

De la Cruz also stressed the need for more weekend and night classes at Gavilan and said he would lobby for a new Hollister campus to be opened.

Managing anticipated budget cuts

Ramirez said his priority would be to get increased student input if or when the college had to cut programs.

“I would go out and get the student input. I wouldn’t wait for it to come to me,” Ramirez said. “It’s a hard decision to cut programs, but I’d make sure it was a consensus decision with the board and the cuts would be equitable, not just based on (average daily attendance).”

Lucha Ortega and Ruben Lopez, vying for the San Benito district, were also not in attendance. Also absent was incumbent Deb Smith who is running unopposed for the Gilroy seat.

Smith, a City of Gilroy employee, will not be listed on the Nov. 5 ballot and will be automatically elected to her second term, unless the County Board of Supervisors contests her bid, the registrar’s office said.

Gilroyans will be able to vote on the Morgan Hill and San Benito County seats.

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