Over the past three years, as enrollment swelled in California's community colleges, the budget shrank by $800 million.
Against this backdrop, six candidates, including three incumbents, have chosen to run for one of three open seats on the San Mateo County Community College Board. Patch spoke with political newcomer Joe Ross.
Public education fuels the economy, promotes the public good -- even ensures national security, said Joe Ross, 40, a married father of three and a candidate for community college board.
Ross, executive director of an education nonprofit, said it is critical for the public to understand that community colleges are in a crisis.
“That’s the reason I’ve taken a big gulp and gone through with it,” he said.
“The board has done a good job of prioritizing career-related courses and skill-building, required classes for transfer. What I hope to bring to the board is advocacy outside board meetings, to raise public awareness. It’s really important for people to realize how important a role they play.”
If he knows one thing, it’s the power of volunteering. In his work, he enlists the aid of professionals in medicine, technology, architecture, business and other fields to work with students pro bono. His nonprofit adds hours of academic nourishment each day at partner schools in East Palo Alto, Redwood City, Oakland and Campbell.
“We’ve mobilized 400 to 500 volunteers in Northern California,” he said. “Citizen Schools is a way to help kids make the connection between school and college and career. It’s really possible to show there is a connection between school and being the boss of their own lives.”
It’s partly his work with Citizen Schools that compelled Ross to run for office: “Many (kids) will depend on community colleges to realize the dreams they internalize.”
In addition, he witnessed his wife’s journey from community college to a university and grad school. Even then, there were too many students for too few course sections.
“I remember her coming home frustrated because it was so difficult for her to get into required classes,” he said. “I appreciate the value of community college but also the challenges.”
Ross grew up in New York City. During an eight-year military career, the Navy sent him to Latin America, then to California. Smitten by the golden state, he stayed on, earning a law degree at Stanford University.
Recently, he heard an army official lament the lack of qualified enlistees – partly because of a lack of fitness, but also due to a lack of basic education. That resonated.
"Jobs and the economy are driven by the education of the people," he said. "We need to do a better job of telling the story."
Ultimately, “the education we provide is related not only to the economy but to national security,” he said. “And we need to tell this story.”