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De Anza Students March in Sacramento

Students plan a huge showing to persuade legislators to spare cuts to community colleges.

Hundreds of students, teachers and administrators from Foothill and De Anza community colleges will descend upon the state Capitol Monday and join tens of thousands from across the state to protest steep financial cuts to their schools.

Organized by the Student Senate of California Community Colleges, Monday’s annual “Day of Action” calls upon state legislators and voters to prioritize higher education. Students have marched each year since 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis, faced with a $36 billion budget deficit, made draconian funding cuts to public education, Foothill College student Stephanie McGhee said.

Organizers expect a turnout of 30,000 people this year. Buses, costing each school about $8,000, will begin picking up marchers at 6 a.m. Monday.

This year, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District could face a staggering $8-$22 million in setbacks, Kurt Hueg, associate vice president at Foothill College, said.

The setbacks would take effect as early as July of next year, because the college has a one-time “stability fund” to allow the college's constituency groups to carefully plan for adjustments, Marisa Spatafore, communications director at De Anza College, said.

But even in the best-case scenario, the college will be forced to further reduce course offerings and lay off staff, according to district officials.

“These budget cuts are killing your dreams,” McGhee, 27, a single mom and second-year Foothill College student, said.

She had to drop out of high school 12 years ago to take care of her family when her sister was diagnosed with autism and given one year to live. It has taken her a lot of effort to gather strength and courage to return to school, she said.

When she started at Foothill College a year ago, she was getting Cs and Ds, because it had been awhile since she had been in school.

With help from the college’s writing center, she improved to obtaining As and Bs. But now the writing center is gone because of the budget deficit, she said. She now has trouble getting into courses that have wait lists 30 to 40 people long, she said.

“It’s discouraging when you’ve been told no, you can’t do something, and you’ve gotten enough courage to do it, and then you’re being turned away,” she said.

Etienne Bowie, a second-year student at Foothill College, said he was homeless before going to college and depends on grants and financial aid to attend class.

“I don’t get it,” he said about the proposed cuts. “You talk about kids getting into trouble, about not being able to find jobs,” he said.

“We need to be more prepared and educated,” he said about today’s economic environment. “What are they supposed to do? They can’t get into classrooms. They don’t go to school. They can’t work,” he said. “It’s about fighting for what’s important.”

Fees per unit will also likely increase from $17-$24 starting July of next year, Hueg said. The fee increase is part of the governor’s plan to increase revenue and offset spending cuts, he said.

“Most students who are full time take between 12 to 16 units,” said Daphne Small, director of student activities at Foothill College.

“It’s still more affordable than a UC, but for students who are already struggling, it’s pretty big,” she added about the fee increase.

In the best-case scenario, California legislators and voters would have to approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s June tax package and extend Proposition 98 in order to keep the cuts at Foothill-De Anza College to a minimum of $8 million, said school officials.

Proposition 98, or Classroom Instructional and Improvement and Accountability Act, was approved in 1988 and requires a minimum percentage of the state
budget to be spent on K-14 education.

If the tax package fails and voters approve the continuation of Proposition 98, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District would face $14 million in cuts, according to the Community College League of California.

If both the tax package and Proposition 98 fail, the colleges will be left with $22 million in cuts.

The worst-case scenario would be “catastrophic,” Spatafore said.

“Hey, we are students,” Thoa Hoang, a second-year student at De Anza College, said she wants to tell legislators. “But that doesn’t mean you can neglect us, and it doesn’t mean you can cut education first.”

Nevin Sarina, a fourth-year student at De Anza College, said the march is way to bring more of his peers to the ballot.

“I think getting people to care more about education and participating in the political process is also very important for college students,” he said. “This
demographic is least likely to vote.”

Exactly what programs and departments will be affected has yet to be decided, Spatafore said.

“Programs and services will be looked at in detail to plan for the inevitable reductions that we’ll face, because right now it is a matter of degree,” she said.

"We’re beginning that planning process now. We are sure to speak with all of our
constituency groups.”

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