Community college district board gains lawmaker, ex-college president

Simpson Rodgers teaches intermediate algebra to students at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. The overburdened community college system is the entry point for thousands of college students each year.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The vast Los Angeles Community College District will gain experience and potentially greater political clout with wins by a past college president and a veteran state lawmaker to the Board of Trustees in this week’s elections.

But the results are not likely to radically alter the direction of an overburdened system that is the entry point for thousands of college students each year.

Former East Los Angeles College president Ernest Henry Moreno and termed-out Monterey Park Democratic Assemblyman Mike Eng won solid majorities in unofficial results posted Wednesday. Incumbent Nancy Pearlman and challenger David Vela, meanwhile, face a May 21 runoff for the third contested seat.


Trustees are under pressure to improve transfer and graduation rates, maintain accreditation of the nine campuses and establish a relationship with a new chancellor. But Moreno and Eng said they also hope to refocus attention on student needs.

Moreno said each college is best suited to determine those needs and he will work to give campuses more control over budget expenditures and programs.

“The best solutions are those applied at the local level,” said Moreno, 66, who is also a former president of Mission College. “They have the best handle on what kinds of challenges they’re facing. It’s critical that people facing the day-to-day operation be given authority and the task of fixing those problems.”

Eng’s priority is to add more classes to increase student access, using funds from Proposition 30, the November tax initiative. He has also asked to be included in discussions over the selection of a successor to Chancellor Daniel LaVista, who is resigning on June 30.

“That is the single most important decision we will make this year,” said Eng, 66. “Will it be someone reform-minded, someone willing to take the temperature of all stakeholders?”

Pearlman, a trustee since 2001, won fewer votes than Vela, who garnered heavy labor union backing. But she said her experience is necessary to expand remedial education, science and technology and other programs. Her support of environmentally friendly construction in the district’s $6-billion campus rebuilding program has saved millions of dollars, she said.


“I reject the premise that we haven’t focused on students,” said Pearlman, 64. “We’ve tried to make sure they have remedial education they need … student aid, programs to keep black men in college and science and technology programs. There’s always more to be done and that’s why I’m running again.”

Vela, meanwhile, said one of his first acts if elected would be to root out bureaucratic bloat and rehire laid-off adjunct professors to teach courses slashed through budget cuts. He insisted that he would not be beholden to faculty unions, despite their support.

“Labor is just one part of the system,” said Vela, 37, a Montebello school board member and also chief aide to state Assemblyman Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina). “Administration, the academic senate, students, we have to work together to ensure one group is not dominated by the other.”

The seven-member board is elected at-large for four-year terms.