Rancho Santiago Community College District leaders are calling for SchoolsFirst – a credit union serving educators across the state – to immediately replace half its board of directors with people of color.
That would take six of the credit union’s board members stepping down, which district trustees said in a July 12 letter to the board should happen in the next 90 days.
Of the credit union’s allowed 13 voting directors, only one is a person of color. Until his appointment nine months ago, the board was composed of all White voting members.
Rancho Santiago values its 87-year-long partnership with the credit union, community college district board member David Crockett said, which is why trustees hope SchoolsFirst will address this “critical flaw in its leadership structure.”
“We expect our business partners to appreciate diversity, equity and inclusion, which we take seriously,” Crockett said. “SchoolsFirst is a credit union for the community, and it’s best to serve with a board that reflects that community. I don’t think it’s there yet.”
SchoolsFirst has been working toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion since 2018, CEO Bill Cheney said this week, though he added there is always room for improvement.
“The board has acknowledged the better need for ethnic and racial diversity, and we’re taking action to ensure that happens,” Cheney said.
In November, the latest board member, who is of Asian-American descent, was promoted from associate director, a non-voting position on the board, after long-time director Adam O’Connor resigned. Two new associate directors, both people of color, also were appointed at that time.
Those appointments were a “first step,” the letter from the Rancho Santiago Community College District board says, “but it is discouraging that they are not full board members with voting rights.”
SchoolsFirst officials declined to comment on what specific changes, if any, will come as a result of the district’s letter. The credit union is in the process of drafting a response to be sent within the next few weeks, they said.
Cheney said by serving first as associates, the newest appointees are getting training for when director positions open up. He said experience is important for leadership of such a large financial institution. SchoolsFirst has more than 1.1 million members.
“It’s a journey that has a beginning, but doesn’t have an end. We can always be diverse and more inclusive,” Cheney said, adding that the board of directors is diverse in other ways: it has seven men and six women from a variety of backgrounds in education.
SchoolsFirst was publicly criticized by the NAACP last year for the lack of diversity among its board of directors.
SchoolsFirst – educators from Santa Ana College, which is part of the Rancho Santiago district, were among its founding members in 1934 – provides the community college district with financial support for bond campaigns and money for miscellaneous needs such as scholarships and convocation ceremonies.
But despite the benefits the school district gains from its partnership with SchoolsFirst, diversity, equity and inclusion is a cause worth reevaluating their relationship, Crockett said.
“Our commitment to this critical change is so deep, that we offer to assist in identifying potential board members or help this effort in any other way that may be necessary,” trustees wrote in their letter.
Spots on the credit union’s board are almost always uncontested during annual elections. Terms are for three years.
“I think that for many board members, the idea of serving multiple terms is a positive thing,” said 16-year SchoolsFirst board member Greg Marchant. “It takes a while to learn things. It’s not unusual for board members to want to serve multiple terms.”
But Santiago Canyon College professor Barry Resnick, who wrote an op-ed piece for the Voice of OC last summer on the board’s lack of diversity, likened the director position to being part of an “exclusive private club.” It’s “nearly impossible” for anyone new to serve, he wrote, adding that more than half of the board has served since 2004 or earlier.
Crockett said he hopes the district trustees can have a formal conversation with SchoolsFirst in the near future to address concerns.
“We have a strong relationship with them and that’s why we felt we could communicate in the fashion that we communicated,” he said. “They’re a long-standing partner, of course, we want to continue that relationship. But we’re still concerned about the makeup of the board.”
Source: Orange County Register