Kunde gets another term as SRJC trustee
Jeff Kunde can relax now – his seat on the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) Board of Trustees is assured for another four years since no one challenged him in November’s General Election. The Kenwood winemaker and businessman was first elected to the job representing Sonoma Valley in 2006 and has been working hard at it since then.
Since he was sworn in at the January 2007 meeting, Kunde has been a full-time trustee, serving on various committees and projects. He is currently president of the board and will serve in that capacity until January 2015. He previously served as clerk and vice president for the board.
Kunde unseated an incumbent when he first ran, an unheard-of occurrence in the normally staid workings of junior college boards. He is proud to have run unopposed since then.
“After (the first) four years, I ran unopposed,” Kunde said, “and it was the first time in history that all the trustees ran unopposed, saving the district $120,000 in election costs. What that says is that this community likes direction. We had been dealing with some very tough issues.”
Those issues included the severe economic downturn in 2008 that led to decreased state funding, as well as the loss of the Doyle Scholarships provided through the Exchange Bank trust that supported so many students with substantial grants since the 1950s.
“We lost about 12 percent of our revenues from the state,” he noted, “but we were able to keep the workforce pretty much intact.” While some part-time employees were laid off, most full time staff, both faculty and administration, were kept on.
Course offerings also suffered.
“For me personally, when we had to cut some of the senior courses, we had to concentrate on basics. For older folks, that was tough, but we had to make hard decisions.”
Another issue was replacing long-time SRJC President Robert F. Agrella who retired after 22 years of service, and was only the third president since the school was founded in 1918.
“We had to do a second search,” Kunde recalled. “We were not satisfied with the first round of applicants.”
Dr. Frank Chong was finally chosen to replace Agrella. “We all think he is a tremendous leader,” said Kunde.
A major challenge today is adding back courses and reaching out for more students. “We’re still not out of the woods,” Kunde said. “We have 18,000 full time education students, which is what our state funding is based on, but we want (enrollment) up over 19,000 where we used to be.”
Kunde also serves as a director of the Ag Trust Foundation, one of two foundations that contribute to Santa Rosa Junior College.
Money is an issue with almost every academic institution in the United States today, and SRJC is not immune to those troubles. The trustees have approved putting a $415 million dollar bond to the voters in November to fund rehabilitation and replacement of aging campus buildings, especially buildings that house core teaching, such as science, English and history.
Kunde thinks the time is right to ask for more funding. Referring to a Los Angeles-based polling group hired to test the waters, “In their history of doing this work, they never had a community more committed with a higher positive response.”
Kunde said many of the buildings were built in the 1950s and 1960s and are practically being held together with duct tape.
“We need it to bring them up to modern educational standards,” Kunde said. “If we don’t, students will go elsewhere. We believe we’re a top school in the state, if not the country.”
SRJC will have a combined student population – full and part time – of nearly 23,000 when fall classes begin.
Issues on the horizon include dealing with diversity on campus, with a rapidly rising number of Hispanic students, now over 30 percent. “We want to make sure we are providing the education and tools they need.”
Kunde and President Chong have even looked at property at the Sonoma Developmental Center which may become available in the future as a possible site for a third campus, targeting students in the Sonoma/Springs area of Sonoma Valley.
“We are looking at Distance Learning (over the Internet), and bringing in more international students,” Kunde said. “We have already discussed it and will form a task force to look at it in the future.”
Another issue sure to crop up after November is changing the way three of the district’s seven trustees are elected. While most of the districts have a single trustee per district, districts 3, 4 and 5 – which encompass North and East Santa Rosa, Roseland, and Southwest Santa Rosa, have a single, at-large election for all three trustees. Currently, all three of those trustees are from the same district, the North and East Santa Rosa District 3, a fact that grates on the large Hispanic population of District 4, which is most of Roseland.
Whatever comes, Kunde says the SRJC trustees are ready. “We are a hands-on, interactive board and have a lot of respect for both administration and staff. We don’t interfere with the day-to-day operations, but we look at everything.”