Five of the seven seats on the Colorado Mountain College Board of Trustees are up for election in the Nov. 5 election, though just two of them are contested.
Voters in the six-county special college district will be deciding those seats, along with a ballot question asking whether the Salida area should be annexed into the CMC district.
Today and Monday, the Post Independent will profile the candidates running for the District 2 (Roaring Fork School District boundaries) and District 6 (Lake County School District) seats on the CMC board.
Running to replace outgoing District 2 representative Kathy Goudy are former CMC professor Mary Nelle Axelson, and Marianne Virgili, the longtime former director of the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association.
And, running to replace District 6 outgoing Trustee Pat Chlouber are former CMC Timberline Campus professor and campus dean Bob Hartzell, and Christine Whittington, a former CMC Leadville library director.
Running unopposed for reelection in the other trustee districts are Patricia Theobald (District 4-Summit County); Bob Kuusinen (District 5-Steamboat Springs); and Chris Romer (District 7-Eagle County).
We posed the following questions and received responses from candidates in the two contested races. We start with District 2 candidates Axelson and Virgili.
Profession, how long have you lived in the Colorado Mountain College District, and any relevant family or personal information you would like to share?
Marianne Virgili: I’ve lived here 37 years. When we moved to Glenwood Springs, the first thing I did was enroll our son in Mini College at CMC’s Blake Center. It was where the kids took pottery and dance and where everyone in my family has either taught or attended classes. I have served the college for decades, lobbying at the Capitol for 4-year degrees, chairing the successful 7D for CMC Election and partnering in the Glenwood Visitor Center. I still feel nostalgic when I enter the Blake Center — it feels like home.
Mary Axelson: I am an educator who retired from Colorado Mountain College as a full time professor in 2016. I have lived in Glenwood Springs for 39 years. I am married, and we raised two daughters here who continue to make Glenwood their home. In my more than 40 years spent in education, I’ve had the privilege of helping students of all ages and backgrounds achieve their dreams. I am most fortunate to have a profession I love.
Why are you running for the CMC Board of Trustees?
Axelson: Colorado Mountain College gave me enormous opportunities for growth and leadership in my career. Although I have retired, I remain passionate about ensuring our communities have access to quality and affordable education. I want students to be at the forefront of every decision made, and faculty and staff supported. There are possibilities as well as challenges in higher education, and I would like to be part of helping CMC stay on a positive and financially responsible path.
Virgili: It’s personal. When I was a kid my dad said if I continued to get straight A’s, they’d have to send me to college. I couldn’t believe my ears! My immigrant mother went to work to help pay for tuition, and I was the first in my extended Italian-American family to earn a degree. Education is a gift that can only be repaid by giving it to someone else. I’m passionate about being a Trustee because I will get to make decisions that change lives by assuring accessible, affordable education.
What qualifications do you bring to the table, and how do you believe that will benefit the organization?
Virgili: As CEO of the Glenwood Springs Chamber for three decades, I understand small town values, challenges and opportunities. I know how to engage people and diverse community groups. My collaborative leadership skills promoted a chamber of commerce and a community to national prominence. I have local, state and national board governance experience, and I understand the importance of having a visionary board as well as transparency and stewardship. I feel I have something to bring to the table and that I’ve been preparing for this role for 30 years.
Axelson: Knowledge of education and the college is a perspective that needs to be represented on the board. As a CMC faculty member for more than 30 years, I served on committees in almost every area of the college, including budget for the Roaring Fork Campus and College-Wide. In addition, I have experience at the state level with Colorado Commission on Higher Education and Colorado Community College System. I believe that this background and my community volunteer experience will serve the college well.
What do you see as CMC’s most significant contribution to the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County in particular?
Axelson: CMC was created specifically to fill a void for our communities and make it possible for our residents to pursue education while remaining in our valley. CMC offers opportunities from high school equivalency to four-year degrees and classes for lifelong learners. Garfield County has nurses, teachers, paramedics, vet techs, law enforcement, and so many others that CMC has helped prepare. This is an amazing contribution.
Virgili: There are three important contributions: Affordable education, job preparation and lifelong learning. Most importantly, CMC provides superior and affordable education for students to be able to study, work and live within their community. Education translates to jobs and trains local first responders, nurses, teachers and law enforcement. It means our businesses can meet their needs today and it prepares the workforce of tomorrow. Also, there is no age limit on learning. At its heart, CMC is a Community college with a wide array of classes for students of all ages.
Do you support the annexation of the Salida area into the CMC District boundaries; why/why not?
Virgili: Definitely! In 1965, CMC founders had an inclusive vision for a college that met the needs of all our mountain communities. The original charter allowed local school districts to vote to annex into the CMC District. CMC classes have been available in Chaffee County for a long time, but annexation will allow those students to pay in-district tuition. If Salida School District voters approve annexation, their property tax bills will include a new mill levy to pay for CMC services without additional cost to the residents of the current district.
Axelson: I think the Salida community could be a great fit for CMC. Like all mountain towns, there is a desire to provide education. The area is growing and would add another tax base for the college; however, while the College has stated that district taxpayers won’t be impacted, I am interested in learning more as this addition will bring changes in resource allocation for all our campuses.
Would you like to see CMC’s four-year degree programs expanded? If so, into what areas?
Axelson: Yes, I am open to expanding our four-year degree offerings in the future. There is a process in place to seek input from community members, college employees and state offices in four-year degrees, and I would need this information before making a new degree decision. I believe that we should focus on supporting and growing our present two-year and four-year programs that require resources to maintain their excellence.
Virgili: Yes! Change is so rapid that it’s hard to imagine emerging fields. CMC’s qualified administration researches that. I strongly feel new degrees should meet the needs of our students, communities and businesses and would assess their wants and needs. I look at degrees in terms of jobs, so areas like health information technology, physician’s assistant certification, software development, data analysis, digital transformation, organization development, the clean energy economy and green building certification come to mind. I also favor more vo-tech training and expanding existing degrees in high demand (e.g., nursing).
Do you support CMC’s income-share agreement loan program for immigrant students who don’t qualify for traditional loans? Elaborate.
Virgili: As a member of the CMC Foundation Board, I support this philanthropic initiative. Traditional student loan debt suppresses college aspirations for first-generation students. DREAMers are authorized to work in the United States but are ineligible to access federal grants or loans because of their undocumented status. This program provides financing for undocumented students and others, but is not a free ride. It enables enable students to pay for college through income-share agreements, in which students pay no up-front tuition in exchange for a fixed percentage of their income after graduation.
Axelson: I applaud and support CMC for initiating the innovative Dream Fund (Fund Suenos) in 2018. This donor-funded income sharing program can provide access to all students not eligible to receive federal financial aid.
In tight financial times, do you prefer to look to taxpayers or student tuition to balance the budget? Explain.
Axelson: CMC has been a state leader in keeping education affordable for our communities, and since tuition is a small part of the college’s budget, I would look more to state and taxpayer support as CMC prepares for increased enrollment.
Virgili: I chaired the 2018 7D initiative to retain CMC tax revenue that would have otherwise been lost. Voters passed 7D by 71%. It stabilizes today’s mill levy. Therefore, I do not favor increasing taxes. The mill levy combined with generous philanthropy make CMC the most affordable bachelor degree in Colorado. (The CMC Foundation raises $3 million – $4 million annually for students and programs.) While no one wants to see higher tuition, if modest increases occur, the Foundation works to make CMC accessible to anyone wanting to further their education.