Photos from erikmiller2020.com and toniareyesuranga.com
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) Board of Education will have two new members as of January. Doug Otto will represent District 4, having won the March election by more than 50% of votes.
But the second new board member, representing District 2, won’t be decided until after the Nov. 3 election.
Candidates Erik Miller and Tonia Reyes Uranga are competing in a runoff election for the District 2 seat since neither secured the 50%-plus-one votes required to win in March.
See related story: Otto wins District 4 LBUSD board seat, Uranga and Miller to face-off in District 2 runoff race
Uranga had won 42.6% of votes– or 5,811 votes– in the March election while Miller earned 36.5% of votes, or 4,975. John Mathews came in third with 20.9% of votes and is out of the running.
The candidate who wins the highest number of votes on Nov. 3 will win the seat.
LBUSD District 2 covers 14 schools on the west side of Long Beach, an area spanning both sides of the 710 Freeway between Wardlow Road and Anaheim Street.
Incumbent board-member Felton Williams has represented District 2 for four terms and is retiring in December.
The Signal Tribune asked both candidates to share how they will address specific District 2 concerns and how they will contribute to the five-member board overall.
Both Miller and Uranga also answered other questions during an Oct. 12 debate sponsored by local media outlets.
Miller said he is a product of LBUSD schools, with a daughter soon starting kindergarten.
“I have a personal stake in the future of LBUSD,” he told the Signal Tribune by email. “I’m running for school board to continue my lifetime of service to our community as a mentor, advocate and nonprofit leader.”
Miller said he previously worked to expand job opportunities for young people, reduce local gun violence and supported veterans struggling with homelessness.
Miller was chairman of the Long Beach GRIP (gang reduction, intervention and prevention) taskforce from 2012 to 2014, helping to implement a federal grant for youth programs that reduce violence, according to his campaign website.
He currently serves as a mentor for Operation Jump Start, which helps at-risk students succeed, and executive director for US Vets in Long Beach, a nonprofit organization offering veteran support.
If elected, Miller said he would prioritize providing District 2 students with up-to-date resources, high-quality extracurricular opportunities and mentorship programs.
“We must ensure that all students– regardless of the zip code where they live– have equal access to distance learning and in-person educational programs,” he said.
LBUSD has grappled with student connectivity issues since the COVID-19 pandemic forced most classes to move online. The current reopening date for in-person education is Jan. 28.
See related story: Despite pressure to reopen Long Beach schools, and LA County restriction waivers to resume in-person instruction, board says Jan. 28 return date is still realistic.
Miller also said he would prioritize ensuring District 2 students and teachers remain safe and healthy during the COVID-19 crisis, and beyond.
“We must ensure that our community has access to PPE (personal protective equipment), COVID-19 testing, treatment and timely communications from LBUSD on public-health issues,” Miller said.
Moreover, Miller said he would advocate for equity in schools.
“I will work tirelessly to close the achievement gap for students of color and other marginalized groups in our community,” he said. “We must ensure that all of our students are college- and career-ready and have equal access to programs that prepare them for the future.”
That includes racism, Miller noted.
“We must also reform public safety and policing to end systemic injustices and protect our city’s most vulnerable students,” he said.
As to how he would contribute to the school board overall, Miller said he would bring a “lifetime of experience.”
“My track record of bringing people together to solve tough problems with limited resources will be an asset to the school board at this challenging moment of crisis and uncertainty,” he said. “Further, my commitment to equity, safety and opportunity will be a critical part of the school board’s agenda.”
Miller also said he is aware of the difficulties many local students endure.
“As the son of a single mother raised in a low-income household in Long Beach,” he said, “I understand the struggles that many of our students are facing, particularly during the current pandemic and economic downturn.”
Per his campaign site, Miller is endorsed by two current LBUSD board members– Juan Benitez and Megan Kerr– and three city councilmembers– Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, Al Austin and Suzie Price– and teacher unions TALB (Teacher’s Association of Long Beach) and CSEA (California School Employees Association).
During the Oct. 12 debate, Miller said he would work to increase District 2 students’ access to technology to ensure successful distance learning.
“Some of our kids don’t even have the internet at home, which is so frustrating,” he said.
His entire career has been about helping others, Miller said.
“It’s always been about the people in my district and my city that I represent,” he said. “I’m the best person, not the best politician.”
Tonia Reyes Uranga
A former Long Beach City councilmember from 2002 to 2010, Uranga said LBUSD’s District 2 is the most diverse and economically challenged area in the school district.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered inequities in LBUSD, inequities that have existed for years,” Uranga told the Signal Tribune by email. “The pandemic has inspired parents to be more engaged in their child’s education now more than ever.”
If elected, Uranga said she would create a task force to address achievement gaps among Black and Pacific Islander students, noting that 72% of Black students do not meet the state’s math-achievement standards and 67% of Pacific Islander students do not meet English achievement standards.
“I will ensure that parents are a part of this task force so our progress and success is monitored,” Uranga said.
She would also work with parents and teachers to lower student suspensions and expulsions in District 2, Uranga said.
“In the last four years at Long Beach Poly High School, 100% of all ‘defiant/disruption’ suspensions were given to students of color,” Uranga said. “Across LBUSD, students of color are overly represented in suspensions and expulsion data. If students are not in school, they cannot learn.”
Uranga said she would also ensure technology is provided to all students and encourage teachers and staff to work with parents in monitoring LBUSD’s implementation of its state-required Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan (LCAP).
“We need to include specific steps to make sure that the hardest hit– our special-education students and English-language learners– get the one-on-one help they need and deserve,” Uranga said.
During the Oct. 12 debate, Uranga said that all the LBUSD schools considered ‘below average’ are west of Orange Avenue and more tutoring, one-on-one counseling and culturally relevant and language-specific student assessments are necessary.
“I will work for a more transparent board, expand the role of parental involvement, ask for accountability from low-performing schools and direct one-on-one services to those most in need,” she said.
Uranga’s campaign website indicates she has over 30 years of work experience and is currently the principal owner of TRUConsult, a consulting firm serving nonprofits and public agencies specializing in workforce and policy issues.
She also serves on the board for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and is on the steering committee for the Coalition for Good Jobs and Healthy Communities. And she is president of Goals for Life, a nonprofit mentoring program connecting retired NFL players with students.
“My experience spans from early-childhood education to preparing students for college and careers,” she told the Signal Tribune. “It will allow me to bring to the board a perspective on working families and struggling students.”
Uranga’s husband, Roberto Uranga, is currently a member of Long Beach City Council, representing District 7.
She is endorsed by three other city councilmembers, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, State Senator Lena Gonzalez and LA County Supervisor Janice Hahn, among others.
Despite these endorsements, Uranga said she remains an “independent voice” for families.
She has also attended board meetings and knows its policies, programs and member positions and can start working immediately to get children back in schools, she said.
“As a mother and grandmother, my concern for the mental health and well-being of our students will inform my decisions at every level of the decision-making process,” Uranga said. “I will be fearless in fighting for policies and resources that will target the needs of our children.”