Steering Sierra College while balancing a family |

Steering Sierra College while balancing a family

When the bell rang to start Aaron Klein’s political career, he came out swinging.

Then 26, the business owner and conservative was elected to the Sierra Community College Board of Trustees in 2004, representing most of western Nevada County on the panel.

He wasn’t content to sit on his hands and observe the machinations of his elders. For Klein, there would be no back bench.

Klein immediately demanded the community college system start funneling more money into reserves. His actions led to the eventual resignation of former college president Kevin Ramirez.

He looks back on that time, and a relieved smile crosses his face.

“It was intense,” Klein said. “Things turned into World War III quickly, a hard-edged fight. I learned change is very hard to effect.”

Some bitter feelings remain, as opposition groups tried hard to unseat Klein during his re-election bid in 2008; they still call for his resignation. But, he said, the rifts are beginning to close.

“I’m proud of the fact some of the people I work very closely with now were on the opposite side from me in that argument,” Klein said.

Now 31, Klein maintains his youth had very little to do with the vitriol expressed by some of his detractors.

“I never viewed it as a reaction to my age or even to me personally,” Klein said. “It was about fear of change.”

Clean-shorn and wearing a pullover sweater in his Auburn office, Klein still exudes youth, enthusiastically defending his push to increase Sierra College’s rainy day fund.

Reserves grew $6.5 million since the start of Klein’s first term, cash that came in handy as the recession began to hit college finances last year. But the reserves won’t be enough to bail the college out this time.

“We’ve got an $11 million problem, and deep cuts are coming,” Klein said. Bringing the private sector into the public community college system will be a key ingredient in helping the school through its difficulties, Klein said.

The same energy that allows him to eagerly take on those cuts also bleeds through to Klein’s personal life.

Married to wife Cacey since 2001, it was to her he first turned when he decided to run for the Sierra College seat, which represents Colfax, Nevada City and Grass Valley.

“She was very supportive,” Klein said. “But there was that moment of, ‘Are you ready for this? Are you sure this is what you want to do?'”

He called the campaign exhilarating, and between board meetings and his job at a software firm, his schedule quickly filled.

Even so, the couple took on another challenge shortly after: adoption. Klein’s younger sister was adopted from Romania, and the process seemed natural for their family.

“We made the decision in 2006, right after this intense period on the college board was coming to an end,” Klein said. They went ahead with plans to adopt a South Korean child, and in November of 2007 got the call to fly to Seoul to pick up a 7-month-old named Sang-Jin. Their son is now 3 and called Spencer Daniel.

“I’m the oldest of 6, and Cacey is the oldest of 8, so we joked that we had had kids for years,” Klein said. “But it was an incredible experience to become parents, to see those first steps.”

The family was ready for a second child right away, Klein said. Smack in the middle of his 2008 re-election campaign, the two decided to adopt from Ethiopia.

In July 2009, they were matched with a baby girl named Asnakech. Now 10 months old, they picked up the daughter they call Emma Nichole in Ethiopia on Christmas day.

“I couldn’t have thought of a better Christmas present,” Klein said.

While Christmas went well, the family’s exit from Ethopia very nearly did not.

American nationals leaving the country must schedule a meeting with the embassy the night before their return for an exit interview. All went well for the Kleins until their fingerprint scans came up missing. Without the scans, the family was stuck.

Klein, a committed technology enthusiast, turned to the social networking site Twitter for a solution.

His “Ethiopia Tweets” spawned hundreds of reTweets, as folks tuned into Klein’s network to help him to find a way out of Africa. The Tweets eventually were seen by people at Rep. Tom McClintock’s office, who helped the family back to the States.

With two small children, a wife, a job and an elected seat, Klein said he’s happy with his current slate.

“I’ve had a number of people tell me I should run for a higher seat,” Klein said. “And I’m definitely not ruling it out. But for right now, I’m staying put.”

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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