The race is on as a newcomer challenges a long-time incumbent for the Lost Rios Community College District Board of Trustees Area 3 seat in the Nov. 6 election.
El Dorado Hills resident Sanjay Dutta, the challenger, said he went to Yuba College from 1982 to 1985. Following that he earned a degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in business before graduating with a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California.
“I’m a product of Yuba (College),” Dutta said, explaining that it allowed him to get a start in the world, where he has now worked in the adult learning area for about 15 years, providing training to others.
He said he sees a “skill gap” in the United States — workers from other countries are taking too many jobs that could be done locally. “We need to do better with our schools,” he said, “realizing that the gap is continuing to grow.”
Dutta, who has lived in the county for a decade, listed three areas where he would like to see improvement: enrollment, budget and the curriculum.
“Enrollment has dropped 17 percent in Los Rios in three years, and I want to get that back,” he said.
Dutta said wants to see the budget stay where it is, with no further cuts and he also wants to “look into revamping the curriculum. It’s in knowing what we need, revamping the curriculum to close the skill gap.”
With a daughter going to both Folsom Lake College and American River College, Dutta has a personal tie to the district. “She is having a hard time,” Dutta said. “She has four courses on two campuses 20 miles apart.”
His goal is to give back to the community, and said he “wants to make a difference.”
Dutta’s opponent is long-time incumbent Terry Cochran, who has held the seat since 1996.
Cochran, a graduate of UC Berkeley, spent several years in the Air Force before moving on to the steel industry. Later, he worked as a general planner in Akron, Ohio, before working at Aerojet, where he was vice president of human resources.
He was invited to ARC to give a lecture. One of the trustees later told him that another member of the board was retiring and he should run for the position, which he later won
Over the years, Cochran came to the conclusion that the Los Rios district is the “best-run college district in California. We take better care of finances,” he said. “The only thing we lack is money from the state.”
The district has also taken changes in the way accreditation works in stride, he added.
He noted that with the budget cuts from the state, the schools have had “a tough time putting together classes.”
But, Cochran’s experience will see him through one more term before he retires, he said. “I understand the finances, the culture, the people, how we tend to operate the organization. Our board is a very compatible board.” He said that stems from having one interest: “The success of the students, giving access to the college. It doesn’t vary from that theme.”
The culture of the system, meanwhile, can be “very foreign to those who have not worked in the system,” he said.
Although the old philosophy of the college was to build bigger, he said, “Ultimately, that didn’t make a lot of sense. Unless you live about five miles from campus, you wouldn’t come.” Instead, satellite campuses were built in Placerville, Rancho Cordova and Davis. “We have four colleges and seven satellite units where students can get started,” he said. They can spend a semester or a year there, “and then move over to the big schools,” where more courses are offered.
Cochran noted that many students do not have working cars and rely on transit systems, so he has worked on getting students to campus, most recently with the Davis campus.
Another feature built in his time was Three Stages at Folsom Lake College, a project that took 13 years. He was impressed that the sound system was right the first time it was used, whereas it took a major San Francisco theater four years to get its sound system perfectly working.
California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, who Cochran called “outstanding,” is retiring and Cochran wants to help find a new one. He said he is “not at all confident” in the current three candidates. “We need to find the right person for the next 10 years.”
He is proud of how the district has been handled for nearly 20 years. “We’ve run a very successful community college system,” he said. “We have taken better care of finances than anybody.”
He also said, after seeing Dutta’s campaign statement, where he wants to “cut the bloat in administration,” the administration is “really pretty thin.” He pointed to graphs showing that only three other community college districts in the state have more students per administrative faculty, and are in line the state-wide average for students per faculty overall. “If we were ‘bloated,’ we’d be in much worse financial shape. It’s a typical political statement.”