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5 Candidates Vie For 2 Seats On Maricopa Community College Governing Board

Candidate Forum Maricopa County Community College
(Photo by Jimmy Jenkins - KJZZ)
Linda Thor, Dennis Kavanaugh and Moses Sanchez answer questions at a candidate forum for the Maricopa County Community College District at Rio Salado College.

Voters will be choosing representatives for the Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board when they go to the polls. Maricopa is one of the largest community college districts in the country, enrolling more than 120,000 students at 10 colleges. Its annual budget of more than $1 billion comes from property taxes, tuition and fees. The district is run by a seven-member governing board.

At-Large Race

There are two candidates running for one available at-large seat to represent the entire county.

John Heep is the incumbent. He’s served on the board for two years and acknowledges declining enrollment is an issue.

“School population is down across the country as much as 10 to 15 percent, even higher than that in a lot of places," Heep said. "So everyone is reacting to this phenomenon and trying to find new sources of students.”

Heep said during his tenure the governing board has boosted its marketing to increase enrollment. But there have been additional challenges with funding. “We’re also adjusting to not having the monies coming in from the state,” Heep said.

This year, the legislature completely cut state funding to the Maricopa Community College District. Heep’s at large challenger Linda Thor said while those cuts are unfortunate, they can be made up with property taxes. Even though taxes are not a popular topic among voters, Thor said "this one we can we directly tie back to benefits to the individual and to the community as a whole.”

Thor has worked in community colleges for 40 years and served as president of the Rio Salado Community College for 20 years. She thinks the community colleges could do a better job of targeting returning students.

“There are a lot of individuals out there who have some college credits but don’t have a certificate or a degree," Thor said. "We need to encourage those individuals to come back and complete those degrees.” She said community colleges could start offering boot camp style programs that would provide a shorter term pathway to jobs.

District 1 Race

There are three candidates running to represent the East Valley in District 1. Mesa Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh said restoring state funding for the district should be one of governing board’s top priorities. “We need to build a coalition between the education community, the business community and municipalities within our district to bring that message home to the legislature," Kavanaugh said.

Kavanaugh is an attorney in Mesa specializing in Social Security and worker compensation claims, but he says higher education has always been an area of interest.

“It really started, for me, 20 years ago, working with Arizona State University, with the polytechnic campus and what roll the city played in helping that grow," Kavanaugh said.

Moses Sanchez is a current member of the of Tempe Union High School District Governing Board. If elected he said he would bring the insight he’s gained from teaching at the South Mountain Community College.

“I’ve been in the classroom, in the district, in the community colleges, so I understand the perspective of students as well as faculty," Sanchez said.

Despite shrinking enrollment and the loss of state funding, Sanchez said he is adamantly against raising tuition.

“Students are struggling right now just finding a job with a four year degree," Sanchez said. "And you’re gonna ask these students to pay a little more? There are just some different, unique ways — outside the box thinking — that no one’s bringing to the table.”

Realtor and former state legislator Laurin Hendrix is also running for the District 1 seat but was unavailable for comment.

KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District.

Jimmy Jenkins was a producer and senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2014 to 2021.