‘I got my bearings on a community college campus’

As a youth I was not a model student in public school nor in Hebrew school.
October 19, 2016

As a youth I was not a model student in public school nor in Hebrew school.

But I was redeemed by education, at a community college. And now, more than 30 years later, as president of the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) Board of Trustees, I am paying back the system that helped me get my bearings.

I won't beat around the bush: our community college system – the largest in the nation – now needs the help of voters, including Jewish voters who deeply value education, so LACCD can provide its 21st Century students with a 21st Century learning environment.

In order to achieve that goal I have been working day and night to make sure LACCD earns the voters' trust and allegiance so that on Nov. 8 they will support Measure CC.

Measure CC is a $3.3 billion bond measure and plan for funding the modernization of campus buildings and infrastructure at all nine LACCD campuses. Those campuses are East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles City College, Harbor College, Mission College, Pierce College, Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, Valley College, Southwest College and West Los Angeles College.

Measure CC will help LACCD complete an ambitious and much-needed overhaul of its facilities that began several years ago. Not a dime of Measure CC funding will be used to pay for the salaries or pensions of administrators, staff or faculty. It will all go into brick and mortar projects.

Measure CC will produce new job-training centers to better prepare students for good, local jobs as nurses, firefighters, law enforcement officers, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. It will pay for upgrading and building libraries, math and science labs and classrooms, and it will be used replace aging sewage and electrical systems. New buildings will be secure, safe and environmentally friendly.

Measure CC would result in a tax levy of about $75 a year on the average property valued at $500,000 (or about $15 for every $100,000 of assessed value), a small investment to ensure that tens of thousands of young men and women get a top-notch community college education to help them become productive citizens.

This is an exciting time for the LACCD.  

Last month, with encouragement from President Obama’s administration, Mayor Eric Garcetti teamed up with the LACCD Board of Trustees to announce a program to provide one-year of free tuition to Los Angeles Unified School District graduates who maintain good grades. The LA Promise Plan is our local version of President Obama’s national College Promise Plan, whose work is being guided by an advisory board, chaired by Jill Biden, the vice-president’s wife. I am honored to sit on this board myself.

LACCD students are among the most diverse in the nation. Eighty percent of our 200,000 students come from underserved communities. Fifty percent work part-time. Many are older workers seeking to train for new jobs. Others are military veterans, adjusting to civilian life. Some are displaced workers trying to get their feet on the ground.

Of course, very large numbers of LACCD students are recent high school graduates who are preparing to transfer to a four-year college or universities.

LACCD is a place of great, youthful hopes and aspirations. I love it.

It is significant that Mayor Garcetti, the LA Chamber of Commerce, BizFed, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, the LA County Democratic Party and the Los Angeles Times editorial board are already supporting Measure CC. They know an educated community is stable, civic-minded and productive.

I know first-hand that our community college system can work wonders.

After passing the state high school proficiency exam I enrolled at Pasadena Community College. Frankly I wasn’t well prepared for the academic rigors of college.  But my previous involvement in Jewish activities (as a teenager, I had been the Social Action Tikun Olum Vice President of the Far West Region United Synagogue and the youth co-chair of the Israel Walk Festival)  helped me find a place in the college’s social and political life.

After only a brief time on campus, I became deeply involved in student government. I was elected student body vice-president and served two terms as student trustee on PCC’s Board of Trustees. It changed my life. I had a mission. I had recognition, a purpose. After several years at PCC, I went on to earn my bachelor’s degree at Cal State Northridge. But I have never forgotten how my community college experiences were so transformative.

Now, I want to ensure that future generations of young people have the best opportunities to grow, excel and achieve their dreams. That’s why I strongly support Measure CC. I hope your readers will join me in this effort.

Scott Svonkin is President of the Board of Trustees of the Los Angeles Community College District. He lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and two children, and he and his family are active members of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center.

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