BERZERKLEY STUDENTS PROTEST EDUCATION CUTS

berkeley-mar-4-1
About 100 protesters blocked Sather Gate, a central pedestrian walkway on the campus
of the University of California, Berkeley, on Thursday as part of a statewide
protest against education budget cuts.

By Jesse McKinley
The New York Times

Angered by increases in tuition and budget-related cuts in government financing, students and faculty members at California public schools and colleges planned protests across the state on Thursday, as leaders on both sides of the political divide in the state promised answers for its educational crisis.

Called a “strike and day of action to defend public education” by organizers, the demonstrations are expected to last all day at marquee institutions like the University of California, Berkeley, and U.C.L.A., which are part of the state’s 10-campus University of California system.

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Students protested cuts to public eduction at the University of California, Berkeley,
on Thursday.

Photo By Jim Wilson

Organizers also hoped to hold rallies at colleges in New York City; Detroit; Austin, Tex.; and several other cities outside California.

California’s public universities were the sites of loud demonstrations last fall, when the state Board of Regents approved a 32 percent increase in undergraduate fees — essentially tuition. Students took over buildings on the Berkeley and Santa Cruz campuses in protest.

On Thursday morning, officials at U.C. Santa Cruz were turning cars away from the campus’s main entrance, according to the university’s Web site, and were telling employees not to come to work. Dozens of protesters had effectively closed a secondary entrance to the west of the main one. There were also reports of a broken windshield and of protesters surrounding cars that tried to enter the campus. In Berkeley, about 100 protesters blocked Sather Gate, a central pedestrian walkway on campus.

One of those was Rafael Velazquez, 23, a graduate student in the School of Education, who plans to be a public high school teacher.

“My whole family went to California public schools,” said Mr. Velazquez, who has a younger brother in fifth grade. “I plan to be a teacher, but it’s not my job prospects I’m worried about. It’s the whole system.”

The demonstrations were being backed by a variety of labor unions and by student groups and left-wing groups, with events also planned at elementary schools, high schools, community colleges and the 23-campus California state college system, which is separate from the state universities.

At San Francisco State, part of the college system, protesters assembled at the business building, using a picket line and tables to block one entrance. Nancy K. Hayes, the dean of the College of Business, said administrators were concerned for student safety.

“Our students thought it was going to be a protest, not a blockage,” she said. “They’re undergrads and they’re young and they’re scared.”

In Los Angeles, outside Westwood Charter, an elementary school on the west side of the city, parents and even small children handed out fliers about the protests along the carpool lane Thursday, and e-mail in-boxes were flooded with information encouraging parents to participate.

A midday rally was also planned on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican in his last year in office, met with education officials and students on Wednesday. At the meeting, Mr. Schwarzenegger said that the layoffs and increased class sizes at some state schools were “terrible.”

The bottom line, he said, was that “they need much more money.”

Where the money could come from is unclear. California faces a new $20 billion state deficit, and schools at almost every level have already begun cutting back spending in the expectation of cuts in state financing. San Francisco’s school district, for example, is facing a $113 million shortfall that threatens the jobs of some 900 teachers.

Alberto Torrico, the Democratic majority leader in the State Assembly, has proposed a new 12.5 percent tax on revenue from oil and gas production in California, a measure that he says could raise $2 billion for higher education. But with any new tax in the state requiring a two-thirds majority, its prospects seemed uncertain.

Still, Mr. Torrico — who is from the city of Fremont on the east side of San Francisco Bay — said he had gathered 60,000 signatures on petitions in support of his plan.

“It’s really not a bill any more,” Mr. Torrico said of his proposed law, which is due to be debated this summer. “It has become a movement out there.”

Malia Wollan contributed reporting from Berkeley, Calif.

See Related: HARVEY MILK STUDENT POWER PROTEST MARCH – On Scene With Bill Wilson

See Related: CALIFORNIA REJECTED FOR FEDERAL FINALIST – Missing participation in $4.35 Billion Education Reform Grant

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