Voter Guide 2019: Race for District 6 seat on San Juan College board draws four candidates

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The incumbent for the District 6 seat on the San Juan College Board of Trustees has drawn three challengers for the Nov. 5 election.

R. Shane Chance, who has served on the board since 2004, will face challengers Tracey Taylor, Aaron Favaloro and Mary Larue in his bid for another term.

R. Shane Chance

Chance is the second longest-tenured member of the college board with 15 years of service. He has served two terms as the board chairman, and has served as vice chairman and secretary.

Chance began his post-secondary academic career as a San Juan College student and said he is grateful to the institution for giving him his start.

R. Shane Chance

He said the board has faced several challenges during his tenure, including efforts to reduce class sizes and more closely align San Juan College with other institutions in the state. It also has faced sizable financial challenges that have made it difficult to keep tuition low, he said.

"We're always focused on keeping college affordable, even through tough times," he said. "The strongest thing I bring to the table is I understand the financial things that allow us to perpetuate this college without going into the red."

The college has undertaken several initiatives in recent years to make itself more user friendly for students and to enhance its value to the community, Chance said. Those include the adoption of the career pathways program that helps students determine which major best suits their interests and career aspirations, while the growth of the Enterprise Center business incubator is designed to play a big role in local efforts to diversify the economy.

"The (Four Corners) Makerspace is going to be awesome," Chance said, referring to a new on-campus facility that serves as a shared workspace for entrepreneurs, allowing them to access state-of-the-art equipment for the development of their products.

He also pointed with pride to the expansion of the School of Energy and the status of the college's nursing program. All those elements contribute to what he described as San Juan College's elite standing among its peers.

"There are probably 1,200 community colleges in this country," he said. "And San Juan College is probably in the top 2 percent of those schools. I'm really proud of that."

Chance said the college needs to continue to be responsive to the needs of students.

"We need to pick up more two-year degrees so our students can go out and make a good living," he said, citing as examples the college's dental hygiene and emergency medical technician programs.

Chance said his ties to the institution run deep, and he said his attendance record as a board member demonstrates his commitment to the job.

"I've been there for 15 years and about 184 meetings," he said. "I've missed seven meetings in 15 years. I've been committed (to the college) and to assuring it remains an icon in our community."

Tracey Taylor

As a longtime teacher, Taylor's background in education is extensive, although she notes it also is varied. Born and raised in Aztec, she has earned a bachelor's degree from Western New Mexico University and a master's degree from New Mexico Highlands University. Taylor lived in Houston for 12 years before returning to Aztec several years ago.

Tracey Taylor

She serves as an art teacher at Park Avenue Elementary in the Aztec Municipal School District, where she is widely known to students as "Miss T." Over the course of her career, she also has worked as an educator in nonprofit, corporate, museum and collegiate settings, giving her what she described as a unique view of education.

"I've kind of seen education in a different light, kind of a 360-degree view," she said.

Taylor said she was asked to run for the District 6 seat by friends who had been impressed by her service on the Aztec schools budget committee and by her activism.

"I have a long history of advocacy in education," she said.

Taylor said when she was approached about running for the position, she asked people what they were looking for in a board member. They told her they wanted that person to be an advocate for students, and faculty and staff members, while also being accountable to stakeholders. Taylor said she thought about it and concluded that was right up her alley.

"San Juan County kids deserve a college that's going to fit their needs," she said.

The school already has a reputation for providing good training to future workers in the medical and energy fields, Taylor said, and she would like to make sure it identifies other areas where it can fulfill that role in the future.

She said she has spoken to several faculty members at the school, and many of their concerns center on the college's finances, transparency and decision making.

"They want somebody who's going to ask questions," Taylor said. "To me, that was really important. Why are we making this decision? Is this based on true responsibility? Is it benefitting kids? And is it in the best interests of stakeholders?"

Taylor said the growth in the dual-credit program at San Juan College in recent years has been a very good thing as more and more high school students have gotten a jump on their college career.

"That ensures the success of our students in a higher-education setting," she said.

Taylor said she takes a realistic view of education, one that informs her own decision-making process, and believes that qualifies her for the District 6 seat.

"It's not really a business and, yet, it is," she said. "I'm someone who knows how to be in the trenches."

Aaron Favaloro

Currently a student a San Juan College and the satellite operation of New Mexico Highlands University, Favaloro is taking an outspoken approach to his campaign for a Board of Trustees seat.

"I feel that San Juan College is a great college, but I feel that they are taking advantage of their students with their policies," he said.

Aaron Favaloro

Favaloro points to the large number of students who are using student loans to attend the school and claims the college does a poor job of educating them about their chances of covering that debt later. He also takes exception to a policy that he claims limits the options of students when it comes to buying books.

He questions why the student loan money students are required to repay is funneled through San Juan College first, which he claims holds the money until well into the semester before releasing it, well after the point when students have purchased their textbooks. He said the school allows those students to buy their textbooks through the campus bookstore on credit, but he described those prices as "exuberant." He said those same books often can be found for much lower prices through online sellers, but if students don't have access to their loan money until weeks later, many of them cannot afford to take advantage of those bargains.

He also claims the college takes advantage of some students by offering degree programs that don't lead to job opportunities.

"You've got kids taking classes for stupid degrees that aren't going to pay out," he said, adding he believes the college should discourage students from pursuing those degrees. "If you want to study cow farts, they'll sell you a degree doing that."

The availability of student loans leads many students to pursue those kinds of degrees, he said, but years later, those same students have almost no chance of erasing that debt.

"In layman's terms, they're taking advantage of the people who have put them on the map," he said of the college's leadership. "It's going to bite them in the butt."

Mary Larue

Larue, a retired nurse and SJC graduate, shares Favaloro's concern about how student loan funds are disbursed to recipients at the college. She likens the situation to parents doling out an allowance to their children.

"That means they can't make the best use of their money," she said. "It's their money, and they're the ones paying it back."

Mary Larue

Larue said she took out her own student loans when she was a student at Eastern New Mexico University, and she often had to use that money for a variety of purposes other than purely academic uses — buying food, putting gas in her car or spending it on other day-to-day concerns that allowed her to continue her studies.

"It was mine to use as I felt it was needed," she said.

But that is far from the biggest reason why Larue said she is running for the seat.

"Our education system is a mess, and our kids are not coming out with the education they need at all levels," she said.

Larue wants to help make sure San Juan College graduates leave the school with a minimum proficiency in math, science, reading and writing. She also said she would bring a great deal of practical life experience to the job.

"I've learned how to balance a budget and stretch money to make it go as far as it can go," she said. "I also have great curiosity. Every class I've ever taken, I can point to things I've learned I was able to use in life, even in speech and drama classes, or sewing classes where I learned to make my own garments or math classes where I learned how to figure the right amount of medication in a dose."

Larue said she values an education that teaches students thinking and analyzing skills, rather than a system that simply focuses on the acquisition of knowledge.

"Knowledge alone is not sufficient to use education adequately," she said.

She also would like to see the college take a greater role in producing well-prepared citizens who have studied and understand the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

"These are things we need to be sure our students have a basic knowledge of," she said. "We need to make sure we are producing well-versed students who understand their core duty as citizens, as well as the importance of a job."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.