05 Mar Day of Action on the Peninsula: Students Protest Cuts to Education

March 5, 2010

By: Diana Samuels
Source: Mercury News

Though they didn’t close campus access roads or shut down a freeway, throngs of students at Peninsula community colleges, high schools and even middle and elementary schools chanted, rallied and made it loud and clear Thursday that they’re fed up with education funding cuts.

In what was billed as a "Day of Action" across California and the country, more than 150 protesters were arrested after they marched onto Interstate 880 in downtown Oakland and shut it down in both directions as the evening commute began. Meanwhile, students at UC-Santa Cruz held a daylong strike, shutting off access to campus at multiple points and rallying at the foot of the hill.

Locally, the crowds were somewhat smaller and less disruptive, but equally passionate.

Sociology student Chuck McKeever said he came to Cañada College in 2007 intending to transfer to a four-year university in a couple of years, but can’t get the classes he needs. "Now it seems like I’m going to be going to school for as long as it would take me to become a doctor," he said.

McKeever said he and his classmates have to pass back handouts at t he end of classes because the college can’t afford to make extra copies.

He was among about 200 Cañada students who joined tens of thousands across the country Thursday for strikes, walkouts and rallies to protest rising costs and cutbacks in education. Other local participants were students in the Redwood City School District,

De Anza College in Cupertino and Skyline College in San Bruno.

At Cañada’s campus in Redwood City, students gathered at about 10 a.m. for a rally organized by student group "Cañada Strikes Back." They held yellow balloons with cartoon sad faces on them and signs proclaiming "Education is a human right!" Between chants of "When they say cut back, we say fight back!", students took the microphone to speak against state funding cuts.

Over the past five years, state budget cuts have caused student fees to rise by 61 percent at University of California campuses and 68 percent at California State University campuses. This year, fees at community colleges across the state increased 30 percent.

"This is basically what the governor’s saying: If you have money, you can come to school. If you don’t have money, sorry," said Mari Ortega, a student from Redwood City.

Cañada administrators say they’ve had to cut a total of about $3.1 million over the last three years, mostly by eliminating some adjunct and part-time faculty positions. The school intends to cut 121 class sections next year, eliminating about 3,000 classroom seats for students, the administrators said.

Cañada students said they face waiting lists for classes and cuts in counseling and other helpful programs. Extra financial aid — through state-funded programs such as one that helps low-income students buy books and bus ti ckets — has been reduced or in some cases eliminated.

"I came to this school because I’m too broke to pay for school!" Ortega exclaimed into the microphone. "And now they want to take more money from me?"

Katy Rose said she has one class left to take at Cañada before she can earn a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, after dropping out of UC-Berkeley 17 years ago. But her family has fallen on hard times, and she can’t afford to buy one of the last textbooks she needs for school.

"I’ve got to count on it being in the library when I need it, and most of the time, it’s not there," Rose said.

At the microphone, she called on school administrators to work harder to restore funding.

"We’re going to tell them to fight," she said, "instead of ‘managing’ these cuts, putting them in a pretty Power Point presentation, and shoving them down our throats!"

At the end of the rally, students walked to the college’s administration building with a list of demands, from "no outsourcing" to "eliminate waiting lists." College President Thomas Mohr stood outside to meet them.

"We support your voice," he told them. "We understand the issue. These colleges are your future and your children’s future, so we need to protect them any way we can."

All 17 schools in the Redwood City School District also had demonstrations in support of the day’s events, school board President Dennis McBride said.

McBride said that at the events he attended, hundreds of parents and students chanted in unison and held signs while marching through Redwood City neighborhoods at around 7:30 a.m.

The district is considering cutting between $5 million and $13 million from next year’s $78 million budget by possibly shortening the school year nine days, eliminating the instrumental music program and raising some class sizes from 31 to 34 students.

McBride said students are well-aware of the message demonstrators intended to send to Sacramento lawmakers.

"They said, ‘They’re cutting our budget, we’re going to have less days of school, we’re going to have bigger classes,’ so they understand it," McBride said.

At De Anza College, a group of about 100 students marched to Cupertino City Hall, while hundreds of other students took buses to San Francisco to join larger protests there.

"We’re tired of the cuts and we’re tired of programs being cut," said student Mario Alvarido. "This event stands for unity with the community. We should be united not just for this issue, but under all circumstances."

De Anza spokeswoman Marisa Spatafore said the campus activities are student-driven, but the school has been supportive.

"From an academic perspective we absolutely support what they’re doing and we’ve been helping them every step of the way," she said.

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