"Long Beach is a blue-collar town," Jason Troia stresses. "It always has been. We're a port town, and our aviation-maintenance program is in the top 5 percent to 10 percent in the nation, and yet we're cutting it. The jobs are here . . . but you know, it's not like we need airplane mechanics."
He laughs. The 32-year-old Troia is the talk of Long Beach. As the student representative on the Long Beach City College (LBCC) Board of Trustees, he has declared war on his own board, specifically over its decision this year to cut 11 of the school's vocational programs over budget concerns. His arsenal is a backpack filled with thousands of pages of documents that the English major has painstakingly combed through and highlighted to blast the trustees during board meetings. He can cite minutiae from LBCC's Academic Senate and College Planning Committee, as well as numerous districtwide reports that, he says, show all sorts of government malfeasance, from fudging stats about the programs' success rates to ignoring the pleas of students to flat-out breaking the law by refusing to comply with the Brown Act.
"The money is there," Troia says. "We've received millions of dollars from the federal government for our programs, and aviation maintenance actually makes a profit of $1 million a year."
Troia has attempted to confront the board for almost nine months, and it has simply ignored his allegations, he says. Instead, it has demanded he turn over evidence or face legal action.
Whistle-blowing is a hobby of sorts for the boyish-looking student. Shortly after high school, he landed a lucrative gig in San Francisco doing corporate public relations for a company he alleges began partaking in illegal activity. "I presented the information to them and showed them what they were doing wrong, but they didn't care," he says. Frustrated, he quit and moved to Long Beach to go back to college and be near his brother.
In June 2012, Troia applied for and became the student trustee on the LBCC board, a position usually sought for resumé padding and often filled by young men and women who quickly learn to sit quiet and not ask any questions. Troia proved the opposite. Two months into his term, the words "program discontinuance" began to float around. "It just didn't make sense, and I started looking into it," he says.
The Board of Trustees had told the public that despite the recent passage of Proposition 30 (which increased income and sales taxes ostensibly for education) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant program (enacted in 2010 to give $2 billion over the next four years specifically for job-training programs, with $500 million allocated toward community colleges), it had to cut 11 vocational programs, claiming the school had lost $7.5 million more than expected this year. Slated for the shredder were auto body, aviation, audio production, interior design, welding, automotive technology, real estate, photography, air conditioning/refrigeration/heating, diesel mechanics and carpentry.
Troia began poring over the board's figures. He slapped his findings down on the dais during an April 23 board meeting and delivered a fiery, 20-minute speech accusing the trustees of incompetence at best, corruption at worst. The crowd applauded. At that same meeting, Troia announced a petition to recall four board members (Doug Otto, Roberto Uranga, Tom Clark and Jeff Kellogg), lobbied Associated Student Body leaders to take a vote of no confidence against the trustees, and demanded the board reconsider the program discontinuance.
The trustees claimed Troia's facts were news to them; Otto, in particular, wondered why Troia had never come to his office to discuss the matter. "They've heard this information from me at least five times, if not eight or nine," Troia says with a laugh, adding that he "submitted a list of questions about all of these things, and they finally responded a week past the deadline."
He also accused the board of violating the Brown Act by holding deliberations in closed sessions. At that point, Otto shot back: "Do you think the Brown Act applies to the Academic Council?"
"It clearly does," Troia replied.
The trustee replied, "Okay," then surprised everyone—especially his colleague Kellogg, who adamantly supported the program cuts—by saying he was partly disappointed in the whole process. "I personally feel that I've failed in what it is that should have occurred here. Not the result, but the process."
Troia didn't stay for the full board meeting by design. "I knew they were going to come at me and try to start a public debate, and right now, it's just a waste of time," he says.
But his speech unleashed an academic revolution. Most of Long Beach's publications, from the Press-Telegram to its many news sites, are now pestering him for interviews—and for his findings. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors contacted him last week to discuss the program cuts. And for May Day, Troia helped to plan a protest against the board's cutback attempt; more than 200 students, many from the discontinued trade programs, joined a 3-mile march from LBCC's campus to Long Beach City Hall. "It was the best protest I've ever been involved in," he says, "I've never seen the trade students so excited."
His campaign hasn't been immune to backlash. Recently, Troia was sent an unmarked package that contained an article written about him and business cards covered in a mysterious white powder. And he continues to receive notices from the board to turn over documentation. (As of press time, the board has not responded to an interview request.)
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But he remains undeterred. Though transferring to a four-year university in the fall, Troia says his commitment remains with LBCC until the battle is over.
"I won't rest until all of these programs are off the chopping block," he says. "People are telling me to move on, but no matter where I go, I'm gonna see this through. I have a very low tolerance for shenanigans. I tend to stick my neck out too far sometimes. . . . Being cautious is a pretty low priority on my list."
He credits his perseverance to his great-uncle, Sam Troia, who ran a small butcher shop in Jason's hometown of Monterey and frequently hired young, troubled youths in the hopes of giving them a tangible trade. In 1979, two employees tried to rob him. He scoffed at how ungrateful they were and walked away; they shot Sam in the back, killing him.
"My parents always told me, growing up, that if someone ever tries to rob you, just give them the money," he says, then pauses. "But I always respected Sam for his conviction. I would probably do the same thing."