Prendergast (Matt Garvey)
For the first time in seven years, a new Board of Trustees member was elected for the South Orange County Community College District. In a close election, T.J. Prendergast defeated his opponent Kevin Muldoon by less than two percent of the vote.
Prendergast as an American Government teacher at Beckman High School says that he follows local politics and when a seat opened up on the board he thought that he could make a difference for students.
“I teach seniors and I will see them a year or two later and I’ll hear them say that their class was cancelled or that the waiting list was longer than students in the actual class,” said Prendergast. “Right now I don’t know the answers to these questions because I’m not on the board but it peaked my curiosity.”
The candidates were competing for Area 2 of the district board, a seat being vacated by Don Wagner who has moved onto the California State Assembly with his election Tuesday.
Prendergrast will be the second board member with classroom teaching experience. Aside from being an American Government teacher he also coaches water polo for the Beckman Patriots. He hopes that his experience from the classroom will be able to translate into success on the administrative side of education.
“Why is it that we only elect lawyers to political positions?” said Prendergast. “Why not elect an educator who likes to teach for a position dealing with education?”
Prendergast said that he will work for three groups at community colleges: the students, the staff, and the taxpayers. He believes largely that the board has done a good job of managing the district and supporting students.
As a new member of the Board of Trustees, Prendergast will have to become more familiar with board procedure and rules if he wants to have impact.
“It’s going to be a steep learning curve and I’ll have to learn quickly about what’s working and what’s not working,” said the new board member. “But I am not coming in to shake things up. I want to look at things logically and make the best decisions.”
Reading accounts through the paper on the Board of Trustees Prendergast noted that there seems to be some tension as of late. Being an outsider, Prendergast hopes to be, as he put it, “a healing force,” that would help the board by “using logic and being levelheaded.”
The new board member was careful not to give the wrong impression about his intentions for the Board of Trustees.
“I’m not coming in saying spend, spend, spend. That’s not who I am,” Prendergast said. “But if there is the situation where spending will help students and staff and be efficient for the taxpayers then I will have to consider it.”
A priority for Prendergast will be looking into the reserve holdings of the Board of Trustees. While districts by law are required to hold onto reserves, the SOCCCD decides to hold a higher percentage of funds than dictated by law.
“As a taxpayer I don’t pay taxes to have my money sit in an account and earn interest,” said Prendergast. “I pay taxes to offer services to the community.”
One of things that Prendergast wants to continue is the accessibility through email that his predecessor Don Wagner had with students. If students want to reach him the he said he will be there to listen.
While campaigning on campus at Saddleback, Prendergast had conversations with students and tried to identify their concerns. One conversation that he mentioned was with the Poetry Club. Prendergast said that he was eager to look into the funding of clubs and how the process can be made easier.
“Clubs are really important for student involvement. Its about school pride and a connection to the campus,” he said. “And if the process to get funding is too difficult, as some in the Poetry Club told me, then that’s something that will have to be changed.”
At IVC the students told Prendergast that closed courses were their top priority.
“If there’s a waiting list of students that is equal to a class size that already exists then logic tells you that a new class needs to be opened,” Prendergast said. “If that means turning part-time staff into full-time staff or hiring new instructors then we need to look into that.”
Prendergast was a former community college student himself, attending Santa Ana Community College before transferring to University California Santa Barbara where he majored in history.
For students, the newly elected board member commented that part of his job will be not only representing students of the present, but also past and future students.
“I want students who attended Saddleback and IVC to be proud of their former schools,” he said. “And for high school students to know that these institutions will be there for them in the future.”
While Prendergast said that he was not familiar with the concerns of faculty about campus infrastructure and Saddleback College President Tod A. Burnett’s desire to build a new science building, he said that these were issues that he will look into once sworn into office.
Prendergast, who was showing the beginnings of a mustache, remarked that he usually does not have facial hair.
“This is for Movember. Movember is a campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer,” he said Prendergast. “When someone asks about the mustache, I tell them about Movember and the importance of being tested for prostate cancer.”