Hannah Heineman, Mirror Staff Writer
Tom Donner, who retired from Santa Monica College (SMC) in June after 30 years of service, is seeking to be elected to their Board of Trustees.
In an interview with the Mirror, Donner explained that he was “approached by the Board members who are not seeking reelection – Herb Roney, Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison and Carole Currey” – to run because they felt without them there would be a “need for institutional memory.”
Donner, who is an attorney, retired after serving as interim president twice and as executive vice president. He began his career at SMC in 1976 when he was “hired to set up the College’s business office.” By retiring, he was able to set up another career in law, specializing in estate planning. His office is in Santa Monica.
If elected, Donner’s long-term goals are “to protect student services when budget problems make cuts.” These services are vital to student success because they include “counseling and financial aid.” Another long-term goal is to “strengthen classified service in order to have appropriate staffing for running the College.”
Donner’s short-term goals include “strengthening the relationship with the City and the School District.” Donner says this is important because “Santa Monica is a destination city, and we need to recognize services need to be provided to those from outside Santa Monica.” He also wants to work on securing more state funding for the College and having a strong relationship with the student body since “supporting students can make a difference.”
Donner noted in many cases “problems are generated” when the College works on issues with the community because they always “look at the worst case scenario.” Instead, he recommends “to start looking at the most likely scenario, and we will get solutions we can live with.” He also mentioned an important role for the Trustees is “to work with the State legislators to explain what’s needed in our District.” Another area of concern is that “so many 18-24-year-olds are underskilled in Los Angeles County, so the community has to step up to train that group.” Part of this is the College having “a role in making high school graduates ready for college-level work” because the state colleges no longer want to include remedial work as part of their curriculum.
Richard Tahvilvaran-Jesswein, President of the Santa Monica College’s Faculty Senate, stated that the faculty is opposed to Donner becoming a member of the College’s Board of Trustees because he’s linked to a lot of “strife and difficulty” with the faculty during the time the College was under the direction of President Piedad Robertson. They think of him as “going backwards” to a negative time when decisions were made that were “hostile to the interests of faculty and students,” such as eradicating some of the school’s vocational curriculum.
Donner believes he wasn’t endorsed by SMRR (Santa Monicans for Renter’s Rights) because he “doesn’t live in Santa Monica” and isn’t “a person they know.” Also, he’s more “fiscally conservative” so they labeled him “a conservative,” which “doesn’t fit in their mold.” Despite this, Donner got “more votes than expected” at their August meeting when they made their endorsements.
The Co-Chair of SMRR, Denny Zane, told the Mirror he believes the fact that Donner doesn’t live in Santa Monica “did not enter into” SMRR not endorsing him. He did agree that Donner’s “reputation for being fiscally conservative,” and thus giving the impression of being more conservative than the traditional SMRR candidate, was a valid observation by Donner. In the end though, Zane feels the SMRR endorsements were “a positive endorsement of those who were endorsed not a negative on his endorsement.”