Meet the candidates for the Maricopa County Community College District: Kelli Butler and Randy Kaufman

Rep. Kelli Butler and Randy Kaufman are campaigning for a seat on Maricopa County Community College District’s Governing Board.
Rep. Kelli Butler and Randy Kaufman are campaigning for a seat on Maricopa County Community College District’s Governing Board.

The governing board for Arizona’s largest community college district will look different come January after two new members join the body.

Rep. Kelli Butler, a state legislator, and Randy Kaufman, a former longtime corrections employee, are vying for a district-wide seat on Maricopa County Community College District’s Governing Board in the November election.

Kaufman suspended his campaign Oct. 18 after news broke that was arrested and accused of public sexual indecency in one of the district’s parking lots earlier this month.

Butler is highlighting her experience with public education, economic and workforce development policy at the state Capitol. Kaufman is championing fiscal conservatism and small government, as well as stronger ties to businesses.

Donna Davis, who works for an education nonprofit, and incumbent board president Marie Sullivan will take seats without appearing on the ballot, as their elections were canceled since they didn’t have competitors. Davis will be new to the board.

The governing board is comprised of five elected representatives from districts within Maricopa County and two at-large members that represent the whole county. Butler and Kaufman are running for one of those seats.

Board members oversee policy and operations for Maricopa Community Colleges as a system and for its 10 individual colleges, ranging from approving budgets and tuition to guiding decisions about enrollment and programming.

The community college district has faced enrollment and financial challenges in recent years but remains the largest system in the state, with upwards of 90,000 students.

The Arizona Republic asked Butler and Kaufman questions about their priorities and how they’d govern if elected to the board. Here are their written responses, ordered alphabetically.

Please briefly introduce yourself: How long have you lived in Maricopa County? What do you do for a living? Any other information you think voters would like to know about you?

Kelli Butler, candidate for at-large seat on the Maricopa County Community College District's Governing Board.
Kelli Butler, candidate for at-large seat on the Maricopa County Community College District's Governing Board.

Butler: I’m an Arizona native, born and raised in Maricopa County. I attended K-12 public schools in Scottsdale, Scottsdale Community College and U of A. My husband and I own our family’s dental practice in Glendale and we raised our two sons in north central Phoenix. I became involved in politics and ran for the Arizona House of Representatives when my children were in school because I was inspired to work to improve and support public education. I’ve served as a state representative from Legislative District 28 (North Phoenix, Paradise Valley and Arcadia neighborhoods) for the past six years and have always prioritized Arizona’s public education system, from pre-K to higher ed.

Kaufman: I have lived in Maricopa County for 37 years. I served over 27 years in Corrections and currently do contract work in the area of executive protection. I’m the product of three of the MCCCD colleges. Rio Salado, Glendale, and Estrella Mountain. I’m a fiscal conservative and believe in small government, low taxes, and that the people know what’s best for themselves.

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What is your platform given the roles and responsibilities of a Maricopa County Community College District Governing Board member, and what is motivating you to seek this seat?

Butler: I’m running for the MCCCD Governing Board to strengthen our already outstanding community college system and to improve access and affordability for all students. Our community colleges not only create opportunities for students to improve their own lives, they also improve our state’s economy. They play a key role in developing and retraining the local workforce needed to attract and retain new businesses and industries.

Arizona needs 60% of all high school graduates to earn higher education certifications and advanced degrees in order to maintain our economic growth, and we are falling far short of that goal today. I am committed to strengthening our community college system to ensure we are meeting our students’ needs and responding to our ever-evolving workforce requirements.

Randy Kaufman is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Maricopa County Community College District's Governing Board.
Randy Kaufman is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Maricopa County Community College District's Governing Board.

Kaufman: I am running on a platform of financial stewardship, improving enrollment, and expanding educational opportunities. As inflation continues to impact us all, I believe the fiscally responsible path to take is one of reducing administrative costs and staying within the current tax rates. As such, I will be a "no" on any increase in taxes or tuition. I will work to enact cost-effective marketing that emphasizes in-person recruitment in high schools and at local community events as a step toward improving enrollment.

While the district has a number of workforce development programs, I believe placing even more emphasis on certification courses would strengthen these programs and improve enrollment. My motivation to run for the MCCCD governing board initially stemmed from their poor recruiting efforts. As I have gained more knowledge, I believe I can be a solid voice for fiscally responsible administration of the district.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the Maricopa Community College system?

Butler: Arizona’s entire public education system is facing funding challenges and the Maricopa Community Colleges are no exception. Beginning during the Great Recession, Arizona cut all operational funding for our community colleges, and has failed to restore this flexible, operational funding, even now, with our improved economy. Fortunately, our colleges have worked diligently to mitigate these challenges, but we know educational opportunities and outcomes can be improved with the restoration of state funding.

Our community colleges are also facing arbitrary spending limits on their ability to use funds already available, similar to the aggregate expenditure limit crisis our public K-12 system is experiencing. It is imperative that our state Legislature correct these challenges in the next legislative session, providing stability and certainty to our colleges.

Kaufman: The most important issue facing the MCCCD right now is a continuing drop in enrollment. While the budget has continued to increase, enrollment has dropped 67% over the past decade. If the district is to remain viable, this trend must be reversed.

How do you plan to address the trend in recent years of significantly declining enrollment and the subsequent budget impacts on the district?

Butler: While there are many factors contributing to MCCCD’s enrollment challenges, there is a range of pragmatic solutions. One result of the pandemic is increasing flexibility in the delivery of coursework and student services — students today want online and hybrid courses as well as remote opportunities for support services. MCCCD is already leading the way in re-engineering colleges to be even more responsive to student needs and I want to supercharge those efforts by leveraging federal relief dollars and seeking additional state funding for specific STEM programming.

This year, voters have the opportunity to approve Prop 308, a bi-partisan initiative, which will increase enrollment by allowing students who meet certain residency requirements to pay in-state tuition at any in-state college, regardless of their citizenship status. Finally, we must continue seeking new, innovative certification programs and private sector partnerships, and develop new 4-year degrees in specific fields where Arizona is currently experiencing workforce shortages.

Kaufman: I recognize the MCCCD has a serious enrollment issue and it is concerning that while enrollment continues to go down, the district’s budget does nothing but go up. As taxpayers, we should demand a return on our investment and neither the board nor the district administration is delivering.

While media-based marketing has a place, nothing beats face-to-face recruitment. I intend to look at the marketing budget and how our tax dollars are being spent. I believe it’s time to shift those dollars to more in-person efforts. While effective marketing is important, the district must improve the quality and value of the end product. One recent survey found none of the 10 schools ranked in the top 100 community colleges in the country. I believe this is reflective of the fact that the district has roughly a 16% program completion rate over a six-year period.

What do you believe the district needs to do to position itself to stay relevant and successful in the next decade?

Butler: Our community colleges are not simply educating our future workforce, they’re improving students’ lives, strengthening our communities, and building our economy. Arizona is becoming a hub for high-tech industries, and it’s exciting to see MCCCD creating partnerships for high-quality, accredited, and specialized certification and training programs for jobs in these industries.

MCCCD’s partnerships with TSMC in North Phoenix, Intel in the East Valley, and with Mercy Care all provide examples of the direct economic impact our colleges provide as they help business leaders meet their specific workforce needs. The colleges should continue working to attract these same students to earn additional degrees by seamlessly stacking credentials and coursework, enabling students to meet their broader educational goals.

Whether students are seeking specific job training, planning to transfer to university, or pursuing new interests, our community colleges must continue working to improve these opportunities and make higher education affordable and accessible.

Kaufman: If the MCCCD is to remain relevant in the next decade, it must establish even closer ties with the businesses and industries in the various communities it serves so as to equip the workforce of tomorrow.

There needs to be a stronger focus on the knowledge and skills businesses require. While degree programs are important in some fields, most can be better served through apprenticeship and certification programs that develop, train, and retrain people to move into the workforce much more quickly. Community colleges are uniquely qualified to perform this function. Programs can be developed quickly and at a local level as the needs of businesses change.

What is the main difference between you and your opponent?

Butler: My six years as a state legislator have given me experience with policy and understanding of budgeting that will be invaluable to my work on the MCCCD Governing Board. I served as ranking member on the House Appropriations Committee, which works to create and debate the entire state budget. I was also the ranking member on the House Health Committee, where I studied gaps in workforce development that our colleges are positioned to address. On the Banking & Insurance and the Commerce Committees, I considered issues related to Arizona’s overall economic development.

I am also a small business owner, helping to manage our family’s business and budget and meet evolving technological demands. And I am a mother to two sons who benefitted from dual-enrollment opportunities in high school through our MCCCD system.

Kaufman: My opponent and I couldn’t be more different. She is a current legislator with a voting record that is not supportive of Arizona families or businesses. Among her many votes this year alone, I would differ with her on her votes against curriculum transparency, against banning sexually explicit materials in schools and against school choice. Our positions on the COVID mandates could not be more opposed either. While she has been supportive of the lockdowns, the COVID shot mandates, and mask mandates, I have been very active in opposing any mandates since they were implemented. She has voted against tax cuts that are helping Arizonans while I support them.

Unfortunately, her pattern of “government knows best” would continue on the board if elected. I believe our US and Arizona Constitutions are clear on the limited role of government and the successes of our individualism is exemplified throughout our unique Arizona history.

Anything else you would like to add?

Butler: I am honored to have earned the endorsement of the Maricopa Community College Faculty Association Political Action Committee. I will work to ensure our colleges continue to attract and retain outstanding faculty and staff, who are key to our vibrant, highly respected community college system.

Kaufman: I am a fighter for our individual rights and personal accountability. I present a clear choice on the board as a fiscal conservative to support the taxpayers of Maricopa County and I will work to take our colleges into the future by setting clear and specific direction for the chancellor and the individual school presidents.

Have a story about higher education? Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kelli Butler, Randy Kaufman: Candidates Maricopa Community Colleges