FREMONT -- Winners of two upcoming Ohlone College board elections will end up serving on the same panel, but the races to get there could not be more different.

The seven-member board is divided into two zones, and incumbent Vivien Larsen, a retired Newark educator, is running unopposed in Area One's lone race.

Area Two's campaign, meanwhile, features four candidates jostling for three seats. Those candidates include incumbents Teresa Cox and Greg Bonaccorsi; newcomer Kevin Bristow; and Bob Brunton, a former Ohlone trustee from 1996 to 2008.

Ohlone, which has campuses in Fremont and Newark, has earned a solid reputation and was recently named the state's fifth-best community college in preparing students to transfer to a four-year university. Still, the college has been forced to make major cuts, drop courses and reduce enrollment.

Teresa Cox, a Silicon Valley tech executive and the board's first African-American, said she is proud that trustees have balanced the budget and reaffirmed the college's accreditation status in 2009, a year after being warned by a college-accrediting commission, she said.

"I'm proud of my record fighting for the students and teachers to build a world-class college," said Cox, who serves as an adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce on state business challenges. "The board needs members who understand financial issues and are able to bring creative solutions."

Bob Brunton, a certified financial planner and former Ohlone board member, said the college's finances can be improved by returning its focus to its core mission: educating students.

"We may have to do fewer things but do them better, while expanding our core competency," he said.

Brunton, who was criticized in 2008 for clashing with fellow trustees and former college President Doug Treadway, said it's true he sometimes grew frustrated with school officials because he could not get the information he needed to make an informed decision. However, Brunton said he and the board took immediate action to solve the accreditation problems.

"I love Ohlone College, and I plan to work with this board and (college president) Gari Browning in a very positive way," he said. "We have some tough decisions ahead, and I'm willing to dig into the issues."

Greg Bonaccorsi, a Fremont junior high school teacher since 1988 and the board's current chairman, said he helped the college cut costs by suggesting an early retirement incentive program. The college also installed solar panels, which will save money that can be used to serve student needs, he said.

"I've been part of a board that has been accountable to the community and moved the college forward in a fiscally responsible way," he said.

Kevin Bristow, 34, has not previously held elected office. But he said his experience as the coordinator for a foster youth program at Cal State East Bay has put him in touch with the challenges facing higher education.

"I've seen what these budget cuts are doing to students, and it concerns me," Bristow said. "My mission is to prepare students for the modern work force, while we have to manage an increasingly difficult balance between our finances and our services."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.