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Protesters call for end to education cuts

jjohnston@thetribunenew.com

In a show of solidarity across San Luis Obispo County on Thursday, students, teachers and parents attended rallies and demonstrations and passed out fliers to protest budget cuts.

The action was part of the Stand Up for School campaign held statewide. Across California, 150 events were planned.

Local school districts expect about $8.6 million in cuts in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2010-11 budget proposal.

That would average $6,250 per classroom, county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said at an annual education forecast earlier this year.

Countywide, schools expect more than 100 possible layoffs to teachers, larger class sizes and cuts to music, sports and other programs.

Students at Cuesta College and Cal Poly could have more fee increases next year.

Some Cal Poly students said fee hikes have forced them to take out larger student loans or work multiple jobs to pay their bills.

They also face larger class sizes or a longer wait for the classes they need.

Rally downtown

State Sen. Abel Maldonado addressed about 100 protesters outside his San Luis Obispo office.

Maldonado told the crowd he supports and agrees with their cause, and added that earlier in the day, he voted on a bill in Sacramento to keep more funding for public education.

At the rally, Nora Trentacoste of Atascadero said that it is next to impossible to complete a degree in four years because classes fill up.

“Something is wrong in California,” said Trentacoste, who works as an education consultant to school districts and colleges throughout the country. “It’s shocking how much less is available here than in other states.”

Cal Poly

About 60 people gathered on Cal Poly’s Dexter Lawn to protest budget cuts and the state’s spending priorities, holding signs that included “Fight for Education” and “Schools not Prisons.”

Junior social science major Kelly Schewer said she attended because she thinks California needs to support education more to ease the state’s economic crisis.

Cal Poly campus fees have increased to $6,198 this year from $4,349 in 2006-07. Faculty and staff have taken two furlough days a month this academic year, which translates into a 10 percent pay cut.

Jane Lehr, an assistant professor in ethnic studies, said that her research shows that more people in California need bachelor’s degrees.

However, “college is becoming more of a privilege as thousands of qualified students get turned down from California state universities, and less of an opportunity that everyone should have,” Lehr said.

Cuesta College

Associated Students of Cuesta College organized a three-hour gathering at the center of campus to protest.

Hundreds of students passed through the rally and listened to a lineup of speakers, including students, faculty and administrators.

Students were also encouraged to register to vote and to write letters to lawmakers protesting a proposed statewide fee increase that would nearly double per-unit fees from $26 to $40 next fall.

“This budget crisis is making it very difficult for our students to have access to an open system whereby they can complete their educational goals,” said Linda Fontanilla, vice president of student services.

K-12 schools

Teachers gathered outside some local schools before classes early Thursday to hand out fliers or display signs protesting state cuts.

More than 100 people gathered at Atascadero schools to pass out fliers to parents, said Tracy Ellis-Weit, president of the Atascadero District Teachers Association.

Teachers, administrators and other employees sported school T-shirts and held up posters protesting the budget crisis.

Some parents showed their support by honking their car horns and flashing “thumbs up” gestures.

In Paso Robles, parents and others also joined teachers in front of each school in the district, said Jim Lynett, president of the teachers’ union.

He wants the Legislature to cease education cuts.

“That would be a great first step,” he said.

Like in Paso Robles, some teachers and other employees in the South County’s Lucia Mar district — San Luis Obispo County’s largest school system — could be laid off because of reduced state funding.

Teachers there dressed in their schools’ colors and fanned out early in front of their campuses, handing out fliers to students and parents as they arrived, urging local and statewide action.

“The focus is not the layoff of teachers, the focus is on cuts to education,” said Kathy Mihlhauser, a fourth-grade teacher at Harloe Elementary School in Arroyo Grande.

At Ocean View Elementary in Arroyo Grande, teacher Kathy Minck set up a table for parents to sign a petition for a state ballot measure to repeal corporate tax benefits lawmakers approved in the past two years.

“The schools are just in crisis,” she said. “It’s affecting everybody statewide.”

Nearby, teacher Colleen Franco greeted students. She’s been with the district four years, has worked at three different schools and has received a layoff notice each year. Last year, she said, she was hired back the day before classes started.

“I love it so I stick with it, but it’s frustrating,” she said.

Staff writers AnnMarie Cornejo, Amy Dempsey, Sarah Linn, Pat Pemberton and Nick Wilson contributed to this report.

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