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Encinal students stage learn-in

Submitted by on 1, April 2, 2010 – 4:55 amOne Comment

More than 200 Encinal High School students protested state budget cuts to education Thursday – by staying a few extra hours at school.

The students stayed for a host of student- and teacher-led after-school classes to demonstrate their concern for what they fear will be lost if the Board of Education has to make millions of dollars in cuts in order to balance its budget in the coming years.

“I want to support my school. I think education is important and should be our top priority,” said Jerico Alvarez, an Encinal senior who helped organize the Jets Strike Back event. “As long as we get the message out there that education is important, then I did my job.”

Alvarez delivered his remarks as he participated in a well-attended Science of Candy class. Other classes set up by the students – some of them run by teachers, others by students – included Protest Through Art, Dissection (the objects were cow’s eyes), spoken word, music and psychology. The students also selected courses they wouldn’t otherwise have – like Vietnamese cooking, a reflection of the home economics courses they’d love to have but don’t.

The classes were broken into two sessions, with a barbecue and performance by a teacher-led band in between.

Sophomore Miguel Mora said the students got the idea for the teach-in on March 4, when teachers statewide protested cuts to education that have led to tens of thousands of teachers facing layoffs in California. Mora said the students’ planned walkout didn’t send the positive message they wanted to send. So a group of about 15 students began planning a teach-in.

Freshman Demetri Tyler said that electives that could be lost through budget cuts – art, music and sports – could have a real impact on students who, he said, would be “lost” without them because they are the things that motivate them to come to school. And he said students are willing to fight to keep what they have.

“We’re very committed to this. And we won’t stop until we get what we get,” Tyler said.

Teachers Micki Singer and Margaret Cassidy, who helped support the event, said students organized and participated in the event even as they faced deadlines today for major projects and tests. About a quarter of the school’s students attended Thursday’s teach-in.

“In this hour, I wouldn’t have been doing anything of importance anyway. Why wouldn’t I spend it doing something fun that’s important, that shows the government we actually care about doing something to save our education?” junior Kiara Heath said.

School district officials have said that a series of state funding cuts could force them to make $7 million in cuts in the 2010-2011 school year, an amount they said could grow to $17 million in 2012-13 when the district’s two temporary parcel taxes lapse. The school board has placed a replacement parcel tax on the ballot that would garner $14 million a year if it passes in June.

Without the tax, district officials said the school board would need to consider laying off some library aides and middle school counselor and shuttering schools for five extra days next year (the district has already said it will boost class sizes in grades K-3). In 2011-2012, the district could consider boosting class sizes further; eliminating elementary school music, physical education and media; and shuttering schools or lowering salaries.

By 2012-13, the year the Measure A and Measure H parcel taxes sunset if they are not superseded by a new tax, the school board could consider cutting art and music and the district’s swim centers, and asking for massive salary rollbacks.

School district staff have offered recommended cuts, but the school board has final say over any cuts that may be made.

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