Chancellor Carlos Cortez of San Diego Community College District.
Chancellor Carlos Cortez left the San Diego Community College District six months ago, saying he needed to care for his parents.

After less than two years on the job, Carlos Cortez suddenly resigned in May as chancellor of the San Diego Community College District.

Cortez, 48, said he was leaving one of the state’s largest districts to care for his ailing parents and planned to move them from Florida back to Connecticut, where he was raised.

“I hope to return to California — my home,” said Cortez, who replaced celebrated 17-year leader Constance Carroll in July 2021. “But I also know that the good Lord is in charge.”

His return to the Golden State may be at hand.

This week, the Contra Costa County Community College District in the East Bay near San Francisco named Cortez as one of three finalists for chancellor.

The others are Santanu Bandyopadhyay and current interim chancellor Mojdeh Mehdizadeh.

The trio took part Monday in separate hour-long forums with employees, students and community members at district headquarters in Martinez. (Its schools are Contra Costa College in San Pablo, Diablo Valley College with campuses in Pleasant Hill and San Ramon, and Los Medanos College with campuses in Pittsburg and Brentwood.)

They are seeking to be permanent successor to Bryan Reece, whose one-year tenure in the three-college district included being placed on administrative leave twice.

The student newspaper at Los Medanos College reported that Cortez believes that 4CD, as the district is called, is “one of the most highly regarded districts in the nation” and would also “love to be part of helping elevate this district to the next level.”

Cortez addressed the student-centered funding formula and the district budget.

He also boasted about his work launching a fourth baccalaureate degree in San Diego.

“My core job function is to help identify opportunities to improve our institutions and to find ways to creatively analyze, determine where the challenges and limitations are of the systems and operations and to bring stakeholders together through the participatory governance process to try to achieve consensus,” Cortez was quoted as saying.

He added: “We have to be able to create safe spaces where if somebody is not at their best in a particular part of their job that we have to respect to help share and guide them so they can improve and do the best for our students in the community.

“We’re all one district and we either rise together or we fall together.”

The student paper said the 4CD governing board had planned to meet Wednesday to decide on the permanent chancellor but the announcement won’t come until a public meeting Dec. 13.

In February 2022, Inside Higher Ed reported that board members didn’t say why Chancellor Reece was put on leave twice or why he was briefly reinstated.

“Reece was hired in November 2020 after he previously served as president of Norco College in Riverside, Calif.,” the trade journal said. “He was fired from that position, also without a public explanation, despite protests from faculty and staff members.”

Meanwhile, the search for a new San Diego district chancellor continues. Finalists are expected to be interviewed starting the week of Nov. 27. The acting chancellor is Greg Smith.

A district spokesman Saturday said: “This weekend, the district is contacting the finalists as well as those who did not advance. The names of the three finalists, along with dates of the public forums, will be sent out Monday. ”

The college board expects to pick the chancellor Dec. 14 and announce the winner in January.

Updated at 10:55 a.m. Nov. 11, 2023