VIDEO: Subtle differences dominate debate between candidates for LBUSD District 2

The two candidates vying for a seat on the Long Beach Unified School District’s Board of Education, representing District 2, discussed declining attendance, police presence on school campuses and inequities within the district during a debate on Monday.

Tonia Reyes Uranga, 66, who owns a local consulting firm, emphasized her history of interacting with the city as a member of the Long Beach City Council during her tenure and the long list of endorsements she has received from elected officials. Her husband, Roberto Uranga, is a current member of the council.

Erik Miller, 35, executive director of US VETS-Long Beach, made a more emotional plea, emphasizing his role as a father and educator, rather than a career politician.

“My entire career has been about helping people,” Miller said. “It has to be about what is best for our kids. And I think it’s the best person, not the best politician.”

District 2 of the Long Beach Unified School District encompasses nine elementary and K-8 schools, two middle schools and three high schools in West Long Beach and parts of Central Long Beach.

The primary election on March 3 was close, with Reyes Uranga claiming 42.6% of the vote compared to Miller’s 36.5%. The third contender, John Matthews II, did not qualify for the runoff in November.

The incumbent district board member, Felton Williams, is retiring after 16 years on the board.

The two candidates were aligned on many of the major questions faced by the district, from an expansion of charter schools in the district, which they both oppose, to the property tax measure Proposition 15, which they both support. Both agreed that when it came to the contentious return to in-person learning, the safety of students, teachers and other staff had to be the main priority and expressed agreement with the currently planned return date of Jan. 28.

Differences between the prospective board members’ stances were found in the subtleties.

Miller, who grew up in Central Long Beach but attended Millikan High School in East Long Beach, expressed more support for busing students to schools outside of their neighborhoods, although he didn’t flat out endorse the practice.

Speaking from his own experience, Miller said that “in some strange way, that is part of the Long Beach experience that is awesome,” and that it added to his educational journey.

Meanwhile, Reyes Uranga argued that the focus should remain in improving schools in less affluent neighborhoods, such as the ones represented within District 2.

Perhaps the most pronounced differences arose around the question of potential budget cuts as a result of reduced enrollment.

While Reyes Uranga said nothing should be off-limits when it comes to balancing the district’s budget, Miller said he didn’t feel comfortable discussing cuts just yet and that he would not support any cuts to teachers’ salaries or the overall number of teachers.

“The teachers are one of the most important components of the success of the district,” Miller said. “That is an entity that we wouldn’t want to touch.”

The possible use of surplus properties became another sticking point. Reyes Uranga argued for sales rather than repurposing surplus district properties, while Miller wants to review opportunities to turn them into housing for teachers, making repurposing the primary practice.

Both candidates expressed their commitment to further reducing racial inequities within the district. “This really has been a tale of two districts,” Reyes Uranga said with regards to environmental justice issues affecting students in District 2. “This cannot continue.”

Reyes Uranga has outraised Miller in terms of campaign funding, but Miller was able to secure the endorsement of the district’s teachers union, the Teachers Association of Long Beach.

The race for District 2 is the only school board race in Long Beach on the ballot this November. The election for the board seat representing District 4 was decided in the primary election, when Doug Otto secured his spot by winning a majority of votes.

Watch the full debate: 

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