Candidate vying for Malibu voice on College Board

Tonja McCoy would be the first Malibu representative on the Santa Monica College Board in years, bringing a Malibu voice to the board at a time when the college and the city may be entering an unprecedented partnership.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Tonja McCoy, Malibu’s only candidate for the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, says the first thing she needs to do on the campaign trail in Malibu is make sure everyone knows that their city shares a community college district with Santa Monica-which means Malibuites pay the same taxes to Santa Monica College as Santa Monicans do, even though they have far fewer facilities and have not had a voice on the board in more than a decade.

Asked why she decided to run to become a trustee, McCoy said, “One, I wanted to serve. I like serving and being involved politically. And I found out there hasn’t been a Malibu voice on the College Board in quite a few years-10 to 15 years. So I’m thinking, wow, who makes all the decisions with the tax dollars?”

She said Malibu was a great deal of the time “the last to find out” what was going on at the college, even though operations are financed in part by Malibu taxes.

“If we’re a joint district, I think we should always have a voice [on the board],” she said.

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McCoy recently qualified as a candidate by submitting 100 voter signatures. She will face six opponents in November; three seats are up for grabs.

Only one incumbent, Chair Margaret Quiñones, is running for re-election.

Quiñones made strong runs for elected positions in the past, winning two terms on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education before her successful first run for the college board. But McCoy and the other newcomers may be able to capitalize on widespread discontent with the current trustees, who some say have made faulty financial decisions.

Many of Quiñones’ previous supporters, including the powerful Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights tenants’ group, have declined to support her, apparently because she took part in the trustees’ unpopular decision to cut programs and faculty in what many considered a “knee-jerk” reaction to the state budget crisis.

McCoy said one of her goals as a trustee would be to reinstate the programs that were cut, especially auto mechanics and other courses that offered hands-on training in practical skills.

In addition to choosing trustees in November, voters will decide whether to approve a $135 million college bond measure that would fund joint city-college projects.

The Malibu City Council has indicated strong support for the bond, $25 million of which would be used to jointly purchase land for playing fields and new classroom facilities in Malibu.

McCoy said she supports the initiative to get more facilities in Malibu. “But it’s really up to the voters what they want,” she said.

McCoy said many voters had told her they embraced the idea of building more college facilities in Malibu but did not want to pay any more taxes to the college. The bond would cost homeowners about $18 per $100,000 of the assessed value of their homes each year for the life of the bond, likely 10 to 12 years.

McCoy is a newcomer to Malibu, having lived here only a year, but she has extensive experience working with colleges and students.

She runs Millennium Entrepreneurs, a camp that allows high school students from around Los Angeles County to attend universities and learn about business during the summer. Students from Malibu, Santa Monica and Los Angeles attend her camp, McCoy said.

McCoy has taught preschool and middle school in her native Kansas City, Mo., and in Hawaii, where she earned her bachelor’s in international studies and business, and her master’s in political science and conflict resolution from Chaminade University.

McCoy is also no stranger to politics.

She has done internships with the state and federal governments, and she made a strong run for the school board in San Diego a few years ago, garnering nearly 100,000 votes.

In 2002, McCoy successfully lobbied the state legislature to change college financial aid laws to allow non-citizens who went to high school in California to receive aid.

She had been teaching a program for high school students at San Diego State University when one of her brightest students revealed that she was not going to college because she was not a citizen and could not get aid.

McCoy worke d with the student to re-word a financial aid bill that had died a few years before. Through an internship McCoy was serving at the California state Assembly, she was able to get the bill back to the assembly floor, where the legislators approved it.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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