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College Official May Swap Districts : Education: Trustees in Ventura County ‘are focusing on’ the chancellor of O.C.'s Rancho Santiago. Both districts have had recent controversies.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The leading candidate to be the new head of Ventura County’s three community colleges is Robert D. Jensen, chancellor of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.

Timothy Hirschberg, board president of the Ventura County Community College District, confirmed Friday that Jensen leads the four finalists under consideration for chancellor.

“We have not made him an offer,” Hirschberg said. “We are focusing on him at this point. That doesn’t mean the board has discarded the other three candidates.”

Hirschberg said Jensen will meet privately Tuesday with the Ventura board to discuss his candidacy.

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Jensen could not be reached Friday for comment.

For six months, district officials have been searching for a new chancellor to replace Barbara Derryberry, 58, who announced in May that she will retire in June, 1991.

A selection committee composed of faculty, students, administrators and members of the community considered 60 applicants before narrowing the field last week to four.

Since 1984, Jensen, 50, has been chancellor of the Rancho Santiago district, which has campuses in Santa Ana and Orange. Students taking courses for credit total 25,000, with another 15,000 taking non-credit courses.

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Before coming to the county, he was president of American River College and deputy chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, both in Sacramento.

The Oakland native also held several administrative and teaching positions in 1969-76 at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore. He received his doctorate in community college administration from Washington State University.

During his time at Rancho Santiago, he oversaw development of a new campus in Orange that will be larger than the Rancho Santiago campus in Santa Ana, district officials said.

If he is offered the Ventura job and accepts, he will be coming to a district embroiled in scandal. Trustee James T. (Tom) Ely was charged in August with conspiracy, embezzlement and fraud in connection with filing allegedly false travel claims with the district that amounted to about $15,000. Ely, who faces trial in May, has denied any impropriety.

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Two months after Ely’s travel expenses came to light, Derryberry announced that she will retire. She has denied her decision had anything to do with Ely. She will leave at the end of June, when the new chancellor takes over.

Jensen’s district has been embroiled in recent controversy, as well. Early this year, two trustees asked the Orange County district attorney’s office to investigate the arrangement the district had with a private company that held weekly swap meets in a parking lot at the Santa Ana campus. The trustees alleged that the district was not getting its fair share of proceeds.

Rudy Montejano, a Rancho Santiago board member, said Jensen had nothing to do with the swap meets, which have now ended.

The two trustees were censured by the board for their actions tied to the swap meets, he said.

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“Robert Jensen is the finest chief executive officer in California,” Montejano said.

Board member Pete Maddox, one of the two trustees who called for the investigation, had only praise for Jensen, who earns $102,980 annually from the district.

“He’s certainly very capable,” Maddox said. “Under his direction, the district remained fiscally sound, and a lot of good new projects were instituted.”

Derryberry said the Ventura board is aware of the swap meet controversy.

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“It’s my understanding Dr. Jensen was not involved,” she said.


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