Interim Chancellor Jon Sharpe speaks on future of Los Rios district

Deputy Chancellor Jon Sharpe accepted the position of interim chancellor when Brice Harris retired in January 2012.  Harris has since been named chancellor of the California Community College System.

The Current recently sat with Sharpe to discuss his future and that of the Los Rios Community College District.

The Current: What is your background?

Jon Sharpe: My background is more on the finance and non-academic side.  I went for my master’s in school business administration.  I’m from Wisconsin, so my education was achieved back in Wisconsin. I moved to California in 1986. In Los Rios, our business operation works more closely than other institutions with the academic side. I did have a great deal of exposure to instructional issues that we are facing, and that has served me well for the last few months.

What are your thoughts on Proposition 30?

Proposition 30 is critical to our students. We have to educate the public, including our students and everyone else. I really don’t, on district time, have the ability to advocate for Proposition 30. But Proposition 30 is critical to our future. A great many of our students are at risk from the opportunity to continue their education and access to instructional programs. Even the breadth and depth of those programs are a little bit at risk because of the significant budget cutbacks that would be necessary. It is absolutely critical to our future.

What are the biggest issues facing Los Rios?

Certainly a good portion of it resolves around the finances. We’ve absorbed tremendous budget reductions in the last four years. We have been cut more than $100 million cumulatively during that period of time. That is a tremendous amount of money. Up to 10,000 students are being educated in our system without us really being funded for them. Our employees have had to take some additional cost adjustments. There have been sacrifices by everyone. First our students, but certainly our staff.

What solutions do you have for those problems?

We implemented some of them and we do have some longer range plans to deal with the potential for unsuccessful (Proposition) 30. We’ve had to reduce course sections. We’ve had to leave vacant positions unfilled. We are attempting to do all this without layoffs and we believe we have a plan that can achieve that. We have made other reductions in general operating expenses.  We’ve become much more efficient and we have been using some reserves prudently.

How difficult will it be to find a replacement for Brice Harris?

Finding an exact replacement is not going to happen. Because of his leadership style and success in the district, it’s a very attractive position. As Interim Chancellor, I am not a candidate for the position. We have a board policy that precludes that. Had I been interested, I would not have offered to serve in this capacity. Once the position is filled, I look forward to going back to my position as deputy chancellor.

Who are the leading contenders?

I really can’t say at this point in time. We are working through the process. We do have impression groups and public forums scheduled. We do try to be very respectful to applicants for a variety of reasons. They have their own districts to deal with and we don’t know what point in time they will inform their local constituents. We don’t want people going out doing their own research on these candidates. We want to have a very level playing field. The successful candidate will be well vetted within the organization.

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