LANSING, MI –
In 2007, three candidates ran as a slate for the Lansing Community College Board of Trustees, promising harmony on a board often troubled by discord...and all three were elected.
One of them, Deb Canja, has become the board's chairwoman.
Canja is running for re-election next week. And this year, voters have two slates of candidates to consider.
AUDIO: For a long time, the Board of Trustees at Lansing Community College was mostly known for internal squabbling and a disconnect between the board and the school's administration. The low point was probably the firing of president Paula Cunningham in 2006.
When the 2007 election rolled around, three candidates...Jerry Hollister, Edward Woods III, and Deb Canja...ran together, with a focus on changing the board's image. Hollister and Woods each won six-year terms, but Canja's was for only two years, filling the balance of an unfinished term, so she's up for election again this year.
Hoping to build on those two years, Canja is again aligning herself with another candidate. This time, it's former Lansing City Councilmember Larry Meyer.
Hollister is supporting Canja and Meyer.
"I know Deb is excellent," Hollister explains, "and I believe Larry would be excellent. And, y'know, I think Bob would continue to be excellent."
Bob would be Robert Proctor, an incumbent trustee who's also seeking re-election.
Proctor, though, is heading up a second slate of candidates, joining forces with Lawrence Hidalgo Jr. and Thomas Patrick Morgan.
That slate has the backing of Trustee Chris Laverty, whose term is ending. He chose not to run again this year. Laverty is a past chair of the board, and took much of the criticism during the board's most turbulent years.
While saying he thinks the board has worked well together recently, he's troubled by what he sees as a failure to follow well-established guidelines on how the board should function.
"There's been a lot of policies that have been put in place," Laverty says. "Sometimes I don't believe that we're adhering to the policies like we should, and if persons have problems with the current policies, then they ought to work to change them."
As an example, Laverty cites the day after the board approved the budget last June. On that day, several high-level, non-unionized administrators were let go. Laverty says their severance packages were never presented to the board for approval.
Laverty also says the board has failed to hold the reins on President Brent Knight. He says Knight exceeded his authority in committing the college to a five-year, $800,000 lease of a building at the airport in Mason.
Labor unions at LCC consider a functioning majority of board members to be anti-union, and they're backing the Proctor-Morgan-Hidalgo slate. Contract talks with campus unions loom next year. About 20 budget-cutting layoffs earlier this year still sting labor units because they feel it was too late in the process before they were consulted. Proctor appears to have escaped union criticism by making a distinction between voting for budget cuts and administrative decisions to cut jobs.
Matthew Miller covers education, including LCC, for the Lansing State Journal. He says with state funding of the college likely to be cut and property tax revenues falling, money will be the biggest issue facing the next board.
"It's doubtful that they would go for a millage at this point," Miller says. "It's doubtful that they can squeeze much more out of the state, and so tuition would really be the one way to do that. I mean, you can talk about other funding streams, services they can provide for business training, that ends up being a fairly small amount of money when it's all added up."
Two other candidates are running low-key campaigns for the LCC Board of Trustees. They are math teacher Deo Wells Jr., and Michigan State University student Brandon Currin.
The three top vote-getters will earn six-year terms on the Board.
The Lansing Community College district includes 13 Lansing-area school districts and parts of two others.