The Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees sets goals and spending priorities for the nine college campuses that make up the nation’s largest consortium of community colleges. Four of the seven board seats are in contention in November. We recommend three starters and one newcomer, as they offer the right mix of experience, knowledge and passion.
These nominees recognize the unique role that LACCD plays in the region by providing affordable higher education to a population facing the high cost of living. More than half of LACCD students live in poverty, many of whom come from underrepresented communities. About 60% of students are the first in their families to attend college, and most are 25 or older. In total, the district enrolls three times as many Latino students and four times as many black students as any campus in the University of California system.
Enrollment in the district is hovering around 200,000 students, down about 20% from pre-pandemic levels, which LACCD leaders acknowledge is an ongoing financial challenge. As such, the district is in the midst of transformation as leaders rethink how community colleges serve the community.
It bears repeating that we believe the current process for electing directors is undemocratic. LACCD is the only community college district in California authorized by the state legislature to skip primary elections. While this saves the district money, it means the four-year seat goes to whoever wins a plurality of votes, instead of a majority.
Seat 2: Steven Veres
Veres, the incumbent, served on the board from 2011 to 2015 and, after a two-year hiatus, was elected for another term in 2017. He is now seeking a third term. He offers a wealth of experience that comes from serving in various roles locally and in Sacramento. He is a district manager for state senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) and served in the same role as Kevin de León when he was a state senator and assemblyman.
Veres is a better choice than the challenger Jason Aula, a small business owner who has limited knowledge of the neighborhood, the students, and their needs. A third candidate for the seat, Glenn Bailey, did not respond to invitations to interview with the board.
As the son of immigrants, Veres championed access and affordability for working-class students in the district and helped lead efforts to improve graduation and transfer rates. . During his next term, Veres wants to ensure greater access for the most disadvantaged students of all – those who have been in homestay. His experience and knowledge will be important as the district works to address learning gaps and address economic challenges that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.
Seat 4: Sara Hernandez
The holder, Ernest H. Moreno, has a long track record of accomplishment serving as president and administrator of the LACCD campus for several decades and has challenged district spending. He was, for example, the only director to vote against putting a new bond measure on the November 8 ballot.
However, we recommend Hernandez, a land-use lawyer and former LA City Council aide, because she has a clearer view of how to meet the needs of today’s students. Her background teaching college at Los Angeles Unified and law classes at Los Angeles Valley College means she has seen first-hand how students grapple with issues ranging from transportation to housing.
Improving student outcomes and expanding free college options are among Hernandez’s priorities. She was notably the only contestant to speak about the challenges faced by single parents, who make up 35% of LACCD students and have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to childcare issues.
A third candidate, Christine LaMonica, a kinesiology lecturer at Cal State Northridge, wants to help improve working conditions for part-time teachers and expand trade school options, but her plans are not well defined.
Seat 6: Gabriel Buelna
First elected to the Board of Directors in 2017, Buelna is a lecturer in Chicana (o) studies at Cal State Northridge and executive director of Plaza Community Services in East LA He serves as chairman of the board and has helped lead trustees through a difficult time during the COVID pandemic -19, which was characterized by declining enrollment. Buelna demonstrated strong and intelligent leadership. He led a team to upgrade the district’s technology before the pandemic, an initiative that continues to this day. For example, he notes changes to the website starting in November that will reduce the time it takes a student to complete an application from 49 minutes to 19 minutes.
Buelna’s challenger in the race is Robert L. Payne, a feature film technician who taught at Los Angeles Mission College, wants to implement higher pay for part-time faculty and promote the use of solar power by installing more solar panels for sustainability. However, he lacks the experience to help run a complex institution.
Seat 7: Kelsey Iino
Iino was appointed to the board in April to fill the remainder of the term of a seat vacated by Mike Fong when he was elected to the state assembly. Iino, a community college counselor for 15 years and a graduate of El Camino College, is now a candidate for a full term on the board.
She faces two challengers. Marc Dutona music producer and writer, seems to have a serious interest in expanding professional training opportunities for LACCD, but displays little knowledge of the district. Nancy Pearlman was a director of the LACCD for 16 years, but lost to Buelna in the last election.
We think Iino is the best candidate in this race. She’s only been a trustee for a few months, but has a clear vision of what she wants to accomplish and shows great promise as a district leader. Iino is a longtime community volunteer, including as a board member of the Little Tokyo Service Center, and is president of the El Camino College Teachers’ Federation, which represents approximately 1,000 faculty members. Its priorities include increasing college accessibility and affordability for first-generation students, veterans, and previously incarcerated residents.