Two candidates are challenging the newly appointed incumbent for the Lane Community College Board Zone 1 seat that represents West Eugene, Veneta and Florence. Holli Johnson was appointed March 3 to the board and is running to keep her seat. She is the first African American person on the board in the school’s half century of existence.
Johnson’s interest in community colleges began two decades ago, when she walked onto the campus at Santa Barbara City College and asked for help. “On that day,” she says, “I knew that I was going to work in financial aid and scholarships. So I went out in the community and helped every person I knew in my social circle apply for financial aid and taught them the ropes.”
Johnson says she is proud of being the first African American woman on the board given the growing conversations about equity and inclusion.
Johnson brings in the most extensive background working in college education of the three candidates, having worked in financial aid and scholarships at a number of colleges in California, Arizona and Oregon before taking a position at the University of Oregon’s Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships. Since 2019, Johnson has coordinated the Lane Education Service District’s African American/Black Student Success Program. She is also the current chair for the Eugene-Springfield NAACP’s Education Committee, as well as the education director at St. Mark CME Church in Eugene.
Johnson says she remains committed to education because she recognizes a need in marginalized communities where support systems may be lacking at home or school. She wants to contribute to a “much past due conversation” about working toward inclusivity in the community, she says. “A lot of times, marginalized communities feel stifled in their conversations, and then they never speak up. So I think they need that voice, who is going to stand in support for them.”
Johnson says she wants to focus on sustainability of adult and continuing education programs, access to education and the recruitment and retainment of staff of color with working wages. “I will not have all the answers. But at least I’ll be in a position where I can go and find answers for them and be that voice, amplifying our voices.”
One of Johnson’s challengers is Mark Boren, who has more than 30 years experience as a basketball and football coach and is the board chair for the Fern Ridge School District 28J.
“Sometimes some people come into the job with an agenda, and I don’t really have an agenda,” Boren says of the LCC Board. He says he wants to ensure “community college is for the community,” to stabilize tuition costs so they are affordable for anyone who wants an education and to upgrade LCC’s facilities and develop new ones.
Boren first joined the fire service as a volunteer in 1997, earning his EMT certifications through LCC and later serving on its EMT advisory board. He has worked in various positions as an instructor, as an EMT and most recently as a recruitment and retention coordinator for the Lane Fire Authority8. He is currently a component district liaison for the Lane ESD and member of Bushnell University’s Leadership and Ethics Advisory Board. He is also running for the Position 4 seat he currently holds at the Fern Ridge School District 28J, where he previously served on the budget committee.
Boren’s main goal for the board is “supporting students’ and staff’s success, both inside and outside the classroom,” he says, “to make sure they have the tools and the things that they need to be successful. And so by dictating policy and approving the budget and those types of things, there are ways the board member can influence that.”
An electrician for 24 years, Thomas Jennings says working toward a common goal has proven successful in his time spent as a construction project manager in Oregon and elsewhere.
After attending various colleges and taking classes at LCC, he completed his electrical certificate through Pacific Inside Electrical’s Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee, later earning a master’s license in Idaho and an industrial electrical license in Canada. He has spent much of the past three to four years working at data centers for construction projects. “I’ve been in board meetings with Google and Facebook and those kind of people, you learn to work together, right? You’re always working for some kind of compromise,” Jennings says.
“I don’t get nervous in those kinds of meetings,” he says. “You don’t have to be bossy or push anybody around. But you do need to find something that works for everybody, right? Or as close as you can get there.”
With one of Jennings’s children attending LCC and the others showing an interest in trade school, he says he is committed to ensuring that students seeking a non-traditional route of education can still find quality opportunities at LCC. It is important to Jennings for field-specific courses to stick around for interested students. He says he hopes to expand curriculum from the main campus to the location in Florence, as well help introduce new pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship courses.
“When an apprentice goes in, they have to do an interview,” he says. “They get placed on a list for the state to go into an apprenticeship. Well, some of these kids, they’re working in an ice cream shop. What can they bring to the table to put them higher up on that list?”
Johnson was appointed March 3 to a term expiring June 30, replacing former board member Melanie Muenzer who stepped down to accept another position. Seats 3, 4 and 5 are also up for election. The Lane Community College Board is responsible for setting policy, coordinating the annual budget and voting to take actions that benefit the LCC community.
The board appoints leadership positions, including the president and superintendent, and oversees contracts, building projects and equity and inclusion at LCC. Former board members include Matt Keating, now on the Eugene City Council, Jay Bozievich, now on the Lane County Commission and former longtime Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson.
Ballots go out April 29 for the May 18 special election.