Five candidates are running for three seats in the Long Beach Community College Board of Trustees race this year.

The winners in the Nov. 8 General Election will serve 4-year terms on the board, which governs the community college district by allocating money for student programs and ensuring the district’s long-term fiscal health, which could be a key issue in upcoming years.

Though philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezo’s ex-wife, donated $30 million to the school in the summer of 2021 to fund racial equity programs, LBCC faces considerable financial trouble in the coming years. Like many community colleges in the U.S., enrollment at the LBCC dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, going from 25,966 students in 2019 to 23,338 in the fall of 2021—a 10% decrease. California community colleges are currently under a “hold harmless” agreement with the state on the enrollment drops, but that ends in 2024.

The board has also endured more than its share of controversies and infighting lately, which, unsurprisingly, have become a campaign issue.

Here’s who you’ll find on the ballot:

Area 1

Board President Uduak-Joe Ntuk is running unopposed for the Area 1 trustee seat, which he has held since 2018. Though he has no campaign opponent, he’s received more than $88,000 in contributions, spent more than $55,000 and has about $33,000 in the bank as of late September, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

In September, his reelection campaign donated $17,500 to the independent expenditure committee Long Beach Business Alliance in Support of Rex Richardson for Mayor.

Area 3

Trustee Sunny Zia was first elected to the LBCC Board in April 2014 and says she’s the first Jewish-Iranian American woman to assume public office in the state. She said one of the reasons she’s running for reelection is to ensure the school develops more workforce training, “so students have a good entryway to jobs.”

She also pointed to her work helping expand a partnership between the school and the county’s probation department, so youth in custody have a pathway to better jobs.

“I love this institution, and I love how it’s a place for second chances,” she said.

Zia’s campaign has raised nearly $56,000 this year, spent nearly $23,000 and has more than $193,000 in the bank, according to the latest campaign finance reports.

Marianne Case, a human resources specialist, is running against Zia but has no campaign committees or website, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters. She did not return two phone calls for this story.

Area 5

Like Zia, Virginia Baxter was first elected to the LBCC Board of Trustees in April 2014. She said she has more than 50 years of experience at the college, having started working there in 1970 teaching U.S. history. She also ran the LBCC Foundation in the 1980s.

She said she’s running again to continue bringing her “fiscally conservative” ideas to the board as it tries to deal with both the enrollment declines and increasing pension liabilities.

In 2022, Baxter’s campaign has raised about $33,000 in contributions, spent a little more than $5,000 and has nearly $48,000 in the bank, according to the LA County Registrar of Voters.

Her challenger, Juan Cepeda-Rizo, is an engineer with Rocketlab and an instructor at Cal State Long Beach. His campaign reported receiving about $27,000 in contributions, spending nearly $24,000 and having not quite $3,000 in the bank, as of late September.

Board Controversies

In March 2020, the board of trustees voted 4-1 to fire LBCC Superintendent Reagan Romali, who had held the job since 2017, for alleged misuse of public funds, mistreatment of staff and other matters. The firing came after the board hired an investigator to look into Romali, as well as Zia.

The board has so far refused to release the report resulting from that investigation. The Board then went to court to bar Zia—who has denied any wrongdoing—from attending the panel’s closed-door sessions regarding that investigation, claiming she has a conflict of interest. In November 2021, a judge refused the board’s request to bar Zia from attending closed-door sessions.

Another conflict with staff came on Sept. 15 this year when the board brought voted 3-2 to fire professor Kashara Moore, a part-time faculty member at the college for the past decade who was recently elected president of the part-time faculty union, for allegedly elbowing a student while announcing names on stage during the college’s graduation ceremony in June.

Faculty members turned out in force at the meeting to decry the college’s investigation into Moore. Trustees Zia and Baxter voted against her termination.

The college is also facing a class-action lawsuit from part-time faculty, who allege they’re required to work for free outside class hours.

Cepeda-Rizo said the board’s actions in the past few years have been “embarrassing.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of dysfunction on the board,” said Cepeda-Rizo. “They’re wasting taxpayer dollars suing each other.”

He also said the college needs to do more to help students get jobs with local aerospace firms, which are currently trying to staff up as the industry expands, and provide better teaching programs for students with disabilities.

Zia agreed with Cepeda-Rizo about the board’s “dysfunction.”

“The board majority has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on private investigators, lawsuits and three law firms going after me because of my support of the previous superintendent and lost,” she said. “We need to get back to focusing on students.”

For her part, Baxter said Cepeda-Rizo’s assertion that the board is dysfunctional is “completely overstated.” She said the school’s June 30 budget surplus of $14 million was evidence that the school is run “in a very efficient manner.”

After that statement, however, Baxter was was on the receiving end of an attack by Ntuk, who accused her of trafficking in conspiracy theories that sow dysfunction among the trustees.

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Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.