Standing up for Ventura County’s community colleges – Hernandez helped guide district to higher standards

Latino Business Awards | June 23 – 29, 2017

By Tony Biasotti
Special to the Business Times

For the last 26 years Art Hernandez, a UC Santa Barbara graduate, has served Ventura County as an elected board member at the elementary, high school and college level. He is currently the vice chairman of the Ventura County Community College District. Photo: Nik Blaskovich

Art Hernandez was 13 when his father died. The elder Hernandez was a cement contractor with an eighth grade education, but his dying wish was that his four children get all the education they could. Art’s mom, a high school graduate who worked as a quality inspector at an Oxnard frozen food plant, took on the mission.

Hernandez and his three siblings all graduated from college, Hernandez with a degree in economics from UC Santa Barbara. Education shapes his life to this day; for the past 26 years, he’s been an elected board member of a public elementary, high school and the community college district in Ventura County.

Since 2000, Hernandez has represented Area 5 of the Ventura County Community College District, which covers Oxnard and the surrounding areas. He was first elected to finish a term left vacant when a previous trustee resigned; since then, he’s been re-elected four times, the last two with no opposition.

As the representative of the Oxnard area, Hernandez has made it his mission to help Oxnard College grow and improve. The smallest of the district’s three colleges, it has never offered the diverse range of academic courses available at Ventura College or Moorpark College. Oxnard College’s student population is older and less likely to transfer from community college directly into a four-year institution. It also looks like Oxnard: in 2016, about 74 percent of the students were Latino, compared to around 30 percent at Moorpark College and 58 percent at Ventura College.

Hernandez advocated tirelessly for Oxnard College, especially during the aftermath of the 2008 recession, when the district had to make budget cuts at all of its campuses. Hernandez said he felt the axe came down harder than it had to on Oxnard College, and he led a protest movement against the cuts that included students and teachers.

That caused some tension on the board, which in turn led to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges putting the district’s colleges on probation.

“I believed that I needed to bring forth cuts that were happening that were of concern to me, and the administration at the time didn’t necessarily agree,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez says he has no regrets about that period. The accrediting commission has moved away from putting colleges on probation for those types of governance issues, and its president stepped down last year after years of complaints that the commission was too quick to punish colleges.

The conflicts among Ventura County Community College District trustees are a thing of the past, too, Hernandez said.

“This is the best board I’ve ever served on,” he said. “It’s because we work with each other and we work through things. There’s a lot of mutual respect. I have no doubt that my colleagues care about my district, and they know that I care about theirs.”

It’s taken longer than he expected, but Hernandez is happy with the progress of Oxnard College. Helped by some of the district’s $356 million bond, passed in 2002, the college has added a dental hygiene building, a child development center, a performing arts center and new athletic facilities.

“I’m pretty proud, actually,” he said. “The facilities are just great, and it’s something the community can be proud of.”

Hernandez, 60, grew up in Oxnard and went to public schools in El Rio. After UCSB, he moved back to Oxnard with his wife, and they had three children.

His path to elected office began when his children started attending El Rio schools. He was elected to the school board in 1991, and then to the Oxnard Union High School District board in 1996. He also began working for the county of Ventura in 1996, and is now the manager of eligibility for CalWorks programs.

Before he went to work for the county, Hernandez was self-employed in a variety of fields: real estate, printing and graphic design, advertising and political campaigns. It’s an outlook that he still brings to his work and service in public agencies and in education.
“I’ve always considered myself an entrepreneur who got involved in public service,” he said.