Tonia Reyes Uranga, 66, a former city councilwoman who has been steeped in local politics for decades, has so far out-raised her opponent for the upcoming November school board race and has picked up endorsements and donations from a number of labor unions.

But, while her opponent, Erik Miller, 35, may not have the same name recognition, he has scored an endorsement and significant financial backing from the Teachers Association of Long Beach, which has recently clashed with the district over preparations for a virtual fall semester.

From Jan. 1 to June 30, campaign finance records show that while Reyes Uranga raised close to $25,000 more than her opponent, Miller’s top contributions have come from the Association of Long Beach/Teachers Active in Politics, a political action committee of TALB. The PAC gave $15,000 in monetary donations to Miller and over $29,000 in non-monetary contributions, such as mailers, consulting and food for volunteers, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in January and February.

TALB this week remains locked in negotiations with the Long Beach Unified School District over whether teachers will have to physically return to the classroom to teach virtual classes. The feud led to a recent protest outside a board meeting and TALB hinting that it might strike. Also within the past week, three employees tested positive for COVID-19 at two LBUSD high schools.

Both Reyes Uranga and Miller said they support the teachers, saying that they should have the choice to work from home—which is what the union is fighting for.

“This is an uncharted space,” Miller said about the pandemic’s effects on education.

Reyes Uranga said the issue might also be divided between those who live in Long Beach and those that don’t. Even between genders, she added, female teachers tend to bear more parenting responsibilities, so having the flexibility of working from home could be more comfortable.

Teachers and parents rallied before a LBUSD school board meeting demanding teachers be allowed to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

When asked if he would remain unbiased during board decisions relating to teachers, Miller wrote in a Facebook message that he has demonstrated his “ability to think independently” as well as “be a team player” throughout his professional career.

“On the School Board, I will always serve my constituents and put their needs first,” he wrote, adding that he has a personal stake in these decisions given that his daughter will be starting kindergarten soon.

TALB announced its support for Miller in February, before the coronavirus pandemic. Chris Callopy, the executive director of the union, said in an email that the organization endorsed him because he is able to “understand the unique needs” of students, teachers and parents as a graduate of LBUSD schools and a parent who mentors youth.

“We need an independent leader who can build consensus and represent our diverse community,” Callopy said.

Miller formerly served as the executive director for PV Jobs, a countywide initiative that provides employment opportunities for those who are “at-risk” youth, adults and veterans. Now, he serves as executive director for US VETS-Long Beach, a site that offers housing and employment support.

Overall, Miller has raised $37,647 in campaign contributions and, according to his campaign website, has been endorsed by elected officials including Councilwoman Suzie Price, and LBUSD board members Juan Benitez and Megan Kerr.

Reyes Uranga, who served on the board for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and served on the City Council from 2002 to 2010, has raised $61,787 since Jan. 1, including thousands of donations  from labor unions. Other notable contributors include Councilman Rex Richardson; Mayor Robert Garcia’s husband Matthew Mendez; Tom Gilmore, president of the Long Beach Poly Alumni Association; Cal State Long Beach professor and former school board candidate Eduardo Lara; and Long Beach City College Board of Trustee Uduak-Joe Ntuk.

Reyes Uranga, whose husband Roberto is a current member of the City Council, said in an email that while this is not an ideal time to raise money, her decades as a public servant have allowed her to cultivate relationships with community leaders and parents.

“I have always advocated for working families,” she said. “I believe my years of advocacy has earned me the support of organized Labor.”

Miller and Reyes Uranga are seeking the District 2 seat on the Board of Education, which includes most of Central and West Long Beach. The incumbent, Felton Williams, is retiring.

The election is Nov. 3.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to show that Uduak-Joe Ntuk endorses Tonia Reyes Uranga.