In the races to fill three Coastal Bend College board seats, we should all be able to agree there are no sea monsters running here. Every candidate is a good person with a sincere interest in the college’s success. Vilification by either side of opponents, a long-standing political tradition, is simply so much fairy dust.
In addition, we should all agree that CBC has been a jewel for Bee County and the region for nearly 50 years. The college has helped make the American Dream more accessible to this region. That’s no small thing.
That said, CBC is unfortunately uniquely positioned to feel the downside of the Eagle Ford Shale boom. While regional campuses would normally spread the risk of local economic upheavals, having campuses in Beeville, Alice and Pleasanton only tripled down on the effects of the oil boom.
That wonderful Eagle Ford sword does cut both ways, and when jobs are plentiful, enrollment drops at community colleges. When budgets are set based on anticipated enrollments nearly a year ahead, a sudden shift can cause big problems.
CBC is not alone in this. Regional institutions from school districts to sheriffs departments, from Dairy Queens to banks, have all had to adjust their game plans for the Eagle Ford.
Finally, we would remind all that college boards are there for oversight, hiring management and setting policies—not to micromanage the day-to-day affairs and employees.
That said, CBC has some good things going on, as have been noted in this newspaper, as well as some serious shortcomings.
CBC’s continued problems with its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is a big black eye for the school.
In last week’s candidate forum, incumbent board member Paul Jaure said the future, in part, will be bolstered by dual credit classes for high schools and online learning.
But that is not assured. Three Rivers High School, for instance, has dropped CBC’s dual credit offerings, now opting to work with the University of Texas-Permian Basin.
Three Rivers ISD Superintendent Kenneth Rohrbach said they changed their dual credit partnership recently because, “It became all about making money for them. They were putting several hundred kids in a class with one professor. No customer service at all...
“The kids rarely got feedback, and some were failing or near failing classes but had no idea because they hadn’t gotten any feedback. We never got progress reports on the kids. At UTPB we get progress reports every three weeks.”
That’s the thing. Distance learning means distance is not a limitation, and CBC has competition even for neighboring school districts.
So, as we turn to the coming elections, we see a college in the midst of transition and significant challenges but still with much to offer.
For Place 3, Jaure has served well for 32 years and helped guide CBC through its expansion into a regional institution. That is nothing at which to sneer. Challenger Jeff Massengill, a former English professor at CBC, and co-owner of Americana Arms with his wife, Tammy, offers voters a unique package of abilities.
For one, Massengill has seen the interaction of the college with its customers, the students, from the inside of a classroom. And recently. He’s also well familiar with dual credit and distance learning courses from the instructor’s perspective. As noted, he and his wife have in a just a few years built a burgeoning firearms business—now one of the largest in South Texas—through customer service and transparency. Those are traits that seemingly have been damaged in recent years at CBC.
For Place 1, again incumbent Louise Hall has done a yeoman’s job in growing the outreach of the college since taking office some 36 years ago. She’s a highly intelligent person who greatly values education. However, her challenger, Dee Dee Bernal, would bring another unique point of view to the board.
As a career educator and principal of Beeville schools from kindergarten up to now A.C. Jones High School, she’s attuned to the customer needs for CBC whether it be dual credit or post high school graduation. Bernal is also well versed in new learning technologies and regularly deals with educational issues and regulatory authorities. Having someone attuned to the those regulatory requirements might have kept the board (in its oversight function) more attuned to the SACS accreditation process.
For Place 5, incumbent Martha Warner faces challenger Tiele Dockens. Unlike the other races, Warner does not have decades of service to the board. The former district attorney has only held the seat for a period of months after being appointed to fill a vacancy, replacing Emilia Dominguez, who resigned.
Warner brings the perspective of a parent with a current college student (though not at CBC). With husband Frank, her family has already produced a doctor and an attorney, so it’s self-evident to say education is important at the Warner household. And as DA, she has all too painfully seen firsthand the failures of our education system.
In Dockens, voters have a candidate who will graduate from CBC this year, is president of the honor society and an accounting major. The young wife and mother is dynamic and has a demonstrated love for her school. Again, hers would be a very different perspective.
Anyone who thinks CBC’s board hasn’t faced a real Sophie’s Choice in dealing with the budget shortfalls brought on by the Eagle Ford has no mind for business. But CBC has to adjust and restore its jeweled status in the region.
To that end, we believe some changes could help the board through the process and suggest voters give consideration to:
• Place 1 – Dee Dee Bernal
• Place 3 – Jeff Massengill
• Place 5 – Martha Warner
Change is always among humanity’s big fears. But education is quickly changing, and CBC must change with it. This region absolutely needs this college again to be a shining jewel.
There are no bad people here with maniacal political intentions, just candidates with genuine concern for CBC and varying perspectives. All can vote with confidence.
Early voting begins Monday and continues through May 6 at the college’s Robert J. Beasley Administration Building. Election day is May 10.