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What's a trustee? 

by Pia K. Hansen

Across the state, 34 community colleges are governed by boards of trustees. Those boards all serve under the Board of Community and Technical Colleges of Washington, which is located in Olympia.

Helen Malone, the current president of the Community Colleges of Spokane's Board of Trustees is a graduate of CCS who is serving her fourth year on the board.

"If you want to do this, you check out the book of vacancies on boards and commissions the Governor publishes," she says. "Then you file a formal application, and if the Governor picks you, well, that means you got the job -- then you find out what you got yourself into."

Selected trustees have to go through a final senate hearing before they are approved. Terms vary from college to college, but at CCS, trustees serve for five years at a time, and Governor Gary Locke will only let them serve two terms.

"The Board is responsible for policy making and direction setting. It's not an administrative body," says Malone. "We work on the areas where we see the college is able to make a difference, such as learning and outreach. We set the direction and then we count on the chancellor to carry it through the campuses."

"No one person on that board can make a decision," says Malone. "There are five people on the board, and decisions are made by majority vote in open, public meetings -- except when we deal with personnel matters or property acquisitions . Sometimes when you are a trustee, you have to make that tough decision by the end of day."

But are the trustees in over their heads? Made up of individuals perhaps more comfortable around budgets, the volunteer trustees may not have been ready to deal with the kind of controversy the firing of Charles Taylor has created. And what about signing off on the purchase of the building at Riverpoint? And how could an expected deficit of more than $800,000 be allowed to accumulate?

One answer may be that though the Indirect Cost Recovery Accounts are audited annually, they are not included in the total spending plan approved by the board. In other words, they were supposed to be kept in reserve -- not being spent on moving into a new office building.
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