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Three seats open on Sierra College board

Trustees say balancing budget, preparing for growth top issues
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Fiscal conservatism and planning for immense growth are issues that surround this year’s Sierra College Board of Trustees election. But if the past is an indicator, the race looks to be contentious heading into November. Three seats on the seven-person board will be open on ballot in November. Incumbent trustees Aaron Klein and Scott Leslie both said they plan to run for re-election. Six-year member Jerry Simmons will not seek another four-year term. Klein, who started his first term in 2004, represents area 7, which includes Colfax School District. He said thanks in part to a new board policy, spending decreased from $1.26 spent for every $1 of revenue to 95 cents of spending for every dollar of revenue. Klein said that closely reviewing the class schedule played a large role in the turnaround. “I think we’ve been more careful and continue to be more careful about scheduling classes that have less than 15 students in them,” Klein said. “That’s very expensive.” Klein’s first term has also been marked with controversy. In December 2004, he filed a complaint alleging Kevin Ramirez, then-president of Sierra College, was involved in a “money-laundering scheme.” Klein’s report was eventually investigated by the Placer County grand jury, which declared Klein’s claims as “utterly without merit.” Ramirez eventually stepped down. His buyout package cost an estimated $600,000, according to previous Journal reports. Klein’s actions led a small group to initiate a recall of Klein and Simmons. The recall effort later failed. Cheryl Maki, former Auburn mayor and part of the recall group, said she initially supported Klein when he first campaigned for the seat. His later actions on the board, especially regarding Ramirez, eventually made her regret her decision. “Aaron bullied and pushed and publicly vilified Kevin Ramirez to try and get him to step down as president,” Maki said. “It worked for them but it cost the college over $500,000 when they did that.” Klein said he respects everyone’s opinion, but feels he has brought about good changes to the college over the past four years. “I feel there were times when I could’ve been more patient in the process of bringing about change, but make no mistake, change was needed at Sierra College,” Klein said. “That’s why we’ve turned three straight deficits into three balanced budgets.” Klein supporter Kathy Lund, Rocklin City Council woman, said she will encourage others to vote for him. “I think Aaron has learned a lot of the last four years,” Lund said. “He’s made some mistakes, but he’s learned from them and he’s done a good job overall.” Fellow trustee Leslie has faced scrutiny as well, but was not the focus of any recall efforts. “He (Leslie) wasn’t the one who was pushing it but he kept voting to promote their cause,” said Rex Bloomfield, a teacher in the Auburn Union School District and part of the effort to recall Klein and Simmons. Leslie said at this time he would not comment on any opponent’s claims. Leslie, however, agreed with Klein that balancing a once-bad budget is something he is proud to have accomplished. Leslie, who primarily represents Roseville in area 3, said he initially ran for his seat in 2004 to help fix the college’s previous budget problems. “We didn’t spend more than we took in,” Leslie said. “It’s really as simple as that.” Leslie said as board president, he helped establish budget and audit committees. He participates on the audit committee, which oversees the college’s spending. Opponents, however, claim Leslie and Klein did little to improve an already sound budget. Instead, Maki counters they hurt the college financially and emotionally. “They should have let Ramirez’s contract run out and saved taxpayers half-a-million dollars and a lot of heartache for students and staff,” Maki said. Klein said he would like to further promote career technical education over the next four years if he wins re-election. If elected to another four years, Leslie said he wants to help the college prepare for growth from South Placer County. “Probably in about 10 to 20 years we’ll be serving twice as many students,” Leslie said. “We need to prepare for that growth now.” Jerry Simmons has spent six years serving as a board trustee. He covered area 4, which included Loomis Elementary School District and Rocklin Unified School District. “For the last four years we’ve even had budget surpluses set aside so now we can have the college expand programs and services while the economy is down,” Simmons said. He said during his tenure, he was happy to see the construction of the Truckee and Grass Valley campuses, as well as a new math and technology center and a child care center. Simmons said he enjoyed his time on the board, but is ready to step down. “I’ve really enjoyed my opportunity to serve the community as a Sierra College trustee,” Simmons said. “I hope that the candidates who step forward will enjoy that service as much as I have over the last six years.” To date, no challengers have filed against Leslie or Klein. Maki said the group Save Sierra College is gearing up to support two candidates who have yet to announce their candidacy. The Journal’s Loryll Nicolaisen contributed to this report. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.