More than 600 students from Berkeley High School joined their peers from across California at the student rally in Sacramento last week to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger’s proposed education cuts.
The Berkeley contingent turned out to be the largest group on the steps of the Capitol, Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan said.
Around 3,000 students—some from as far away as Los Angeles—drove up to Sacramento May 15 to speak to legislators and learn about how the state funds public education.
State Superintendent Jack O’Connell spoke at the rally, along with hip-hop artists Ise Lyfe and Random, who also rapped about budget cuts.
“It was definitely an issue that had to be protested by any school district in California,” said Berkeley High senior Ignacio Palmieri, who was the event emcee on behalf of the organization Youth Together. “I am glad we were able to protest the cuts physically since we are the ones most affected by it.”
Berkeley High alum Lily Dorman-Colby, who is taking a year off from Yale University to work as an AmeriCorp intern at Community Partnerships Academy (one of the small schools within Berkeley High), accompanied more than 300 students from the small school to Sacramento.
“We even went to the office of a Republican legislator to discuss cuts,” she said excitedly. “It was very positive. The students felt like their voice was being heard and it was a great field trip for the government classes.”
The governor released his 2008-2009 May budget revision, which contains significant changes to his January proposal, a day before the rally . The May revision proposes a combination of spending reductions, revenue solutions, and several creative financing mechanisms to address the persistent budget gap.
While the May revision restores or increases funding for some programs, the original January proposal to make across- the-board cuts is still in place for almost all categorical programs, which amounts to a loss of $1 billion.
According to an analysis by the Association of California School Administrators, the cuts, combined with the lack of cost-of-living adjustments, take approximately $4 billion from education funding.
District Superintendent Bill Huyett presented his recommendations for cuts to the Berkeley Board of Education on the same day the governor released his May Revise.
“While at first blush the new proposal is likely to reduce the cuts to district funds for next year, it is important to remember that this is only a proposal, and will no doubt undergo changes before the state budget is approved by the Legislature,” Huyett said in a statement on May 14.
The district has been able to bring back all but two of its teachers and counselors from the layoff list. Thirty-four classified employees were sent pink slips earlier this month.
“As we move toward approving a budget in June, it is possible that some of these positions will be removed from the layoff list,” Hyett’s statement said. “Layoffs are a very difficult process for our employees to go through ... The governor’s revised proposal still hurts education and has serious implications for the health of our communities.”
The superintendent’s staff will present the implications of the governor’s May Revise at the school board meeting on June 11. The board is scheduled to take action on the final budget at the June 25 meeting.