Two candidates vying to represent Area 2 on the Long Beach Unified School District board, Erik Miller and Tonia Reyes Uranga, faced off in a live-streamed debate Monday evening, Oct. 12, where they discussed equity, finances, the achievement gap and more.
Both are hoping to replace Felton Williams, who currently represents the area and chose not to run for re-election. Area 2 stretches from the city’s western border to Signal Hill and from 10th Street up to 36th Street.
One issue that’s been top of mind for teachers, parents and students has been the potential loss of learning that students will experience because of the coronavirus pandemic and the virtual learning that has been necessary to stem the virus’s spread.
Miller and Uranga both acknowledged the challenges that getting back to the classroom will eventually pose for students — particularly low-income students or students with special needs who may not have the resources to perform well at home. But they proposed different ideas for how to overcome those challenges.
Miller said he believed it would be important to assess every student when they return to the classroom — through standardized testing as well as through experiential learning — to determine what type of support they would need to catch back up once kids are allowed back on campuses.
“They’re going to be in different places,” he said, “so to make sure that we assess them appropriately and equitably approach each student with an opportunity to catch back up or be back in a place of academic excellence is going to be important.”
Uranga, meanwhile, said her first step would be to look at the budget to see what type of funding would be available to provide tutoring, one-on-one counseling and other types of support for students who need it.
“Unfortunately, it’s unequal,” she said, “in that English language learners, special education students and students who were already behind before COVID started are going to be even worse.”
The candidates also discussed what will likely continue to be a shrinking budget in the years to come, with the current coronavirus-induced recession and longer term projections of declining enrollment.
Miller, for his part, said he felt it was too early to pin down a specific area where he believed the district should make cuts. He added, though, that he thought the district could use some of its surplus properties to provide affordable housing.
“What about an opportunity to create living opportunities for our teachers and for our classified employees so they now can afford to live in our city?” he said. “I think there are a lot of district employees who are driving in from the Bellflowers or the Comptons or the Inglewoods of the world because they just can’t afford to live here.”
Uranga, meanwhile, said she would support that idea in theory but pointed to the complications of rezoning and obtaining permits for properties not originally intended to provide housing.
“So I think that we should first look at what we would gather if we sold these properties,” she said. “Get the most money for it, I would say, and put it back in the budget.”
And on the achievement gap, both candidates said they believed the district needs to put more effort into ensuring students have equitable access to resources.
“Some of our kids don’t even have the internet at home, which is so frustrating,” Miller said. “When we’re talking about distance learning, we’re talking about information-sharing, so we’re making sure that our kids are provided some of the same amenities and doing it in an equitable approach — it’s going to be important.”
Uranga, on that point, agreed.
“We’re an award-winning district that needs to be award-winning for every student,” she said, “regardless of where they live.”
The debate was the fourth in a series ahead of the Nov. 3 elections hosted by the Press-Telegram, Grunion Gazette, Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. To watch a replay of the event, visit presstelegram.com/debates.
You can also watch replays of debates featuring:
City Council District 2 candidates Robert Fox and Cindy Allen;
City Council District 6 candidates Dee Andrews and Suely Saro; and
City Council District 8 candidates Al Austin and Tunua Thrash-Ntuk.
The final live debate of the series will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, featuring Long Beach City College District Area 4 trustee candidates Lee Loveridge, Herlinda Chico and Dick Gaylord.