Sunday, February 28, 2010


Schools in state fired up over Day of Action

Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Jessica Pons / The Chronicle | Fernando Curiel, 20, works on the puppet "La Llorona" (left), a woman weeping for students. It is one of four in-your-face props, including a skeleton wearing a graduation cap, being created for Thursday's protests.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 -- March 4th has gone viral.

The upcoming Day of Action to Defend Public Education - rallies, marches, teach-ins, even political theater - began as an idea on the UC Berkeley campus last fall and has caught fire up and down California, from elementary school to graduate school, and across two dozen states.

On the surface, Thursday's Day of Action seems likely to be an unprecedented show of unity among public education advocates at all levels who are angry that politicians and university officials with fingers on purse strings are letting the system decay.

"Everybody's coming together," said Callie Maidhof, a student at UC Berkeley, where students have protested tuition hikes, budget cuts and layoffs since last fall.

But some say the event is already scorched by the threat of violence. At an outdoor dance party early Friday, a crowd of Berkeley campus protesters seized a building, torched trash cans, threw bottles and got into an angry confrontation with police.

Hostilities unwanted

Students said protesters occupied the building in part to call attention to March 4th, and don't expect the hostilities to be repeated Thursday.▼

What Budget Mess? Mayor V. To Host Pre-Oscar Party

By Dennis Romero, LA Weekly Blog

Thumbnail image for Villaraigosa.jpg

Friday, Feb. 26 2010 @ 12:14PM -- Just today we were ribbing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for being seemingly everywhere BUT City Hall -- Washington, D.C. (begging Congress for money), Beverly Hills (meeting with alternative-energy investors) and Exposition Park (for a pow-wow with Princeton professor Cornell West). All this, of course, as the city faces a $212-million-and-growing budget disaster -- including less cops, firefighters and paramedics on the streets -- that even had the City Council calling for a local state of emergency.

Now comes word that Mayor V., ever the man with his priorities straight (witness December's trek to Europe or this month's cameo on All My Children), will be hosting a pre-Oscar party at the city-funded mayor's residence Thursday night. Because, when the city's on it's last dime and you can't find a cop when you need one, what it really needs is a red-carpet event celebrating the ultra-rich of Hollywood.

The event, co-hosted by The Hollywood Reporter, is called Nominees' Night at Getty House and will honor Oscar nominees (it's not clear yet who will show). THR states that Microsoft Bing, L'Oreal Paris and the city of Veracruz (THR has it as "Vera Cruz," but we're assuming it's the Mexican city) are sponsoring the event.

It's not clear how much public money will go into the party, although the house is maintained through city funds at the cost of more than $100,000 a year (PDF). (And the mayor don't come cheap either).

▲ "It's important not to inject that level of damage into every action, or you'll alienate lots of people who don't want to act that way," said Xander Lenc, a student at the dance party that got out of hand.

A major goal of Thursday's Day of Action is to draw attention to education woes not only in California, but all over the country, Maidhof said. "We want public education to be open and free to all."

Instead, college tuition has been climbing steadily in most states and in California, despite a state master plan calling for tuition-free colleges.

At UC, next year's base tuition of $10,302 will be more than double that of six years ago. Recent tuition hikes of more than 30 percent at UC and at California State University have forced students to shoulder more of the cost of their education as state lawmakers have cut back on funding to the universities in response to the state's epic budget crisis. Schools are offering fewer courses, cutting wages, laying off employees and reducing enrollment.

At community colleges, course cuts will close the door to 21,000 students next year.

In the lower grades, thousands of teachers will get layoff warnings by March 15. Holding the Day of Action in time to highlight those pink slips is one reason students and teachers say they chose the date March 4.

"We hope to educate our politicians that the system they have for funding schools is not equitable and needs to be changed," said Megan Caluza, who has taught special-needs students at El Dorado Elementary in San Francisco for two years and expects to be laid off.

She'll march with colleagues and parents through the Mission District after school, then head to a 5 p.m. rally at Civic Center - one of many sponsored by labor unions and faculty.

"Everyone agrees that education should be a right, not a privilege," said Joan Berezin, co-chairwoman of the social science department at Berkeley City College and an organizer. "This is our state, our education. If we don't defend it, who will?"

All 23 campuses of California State University are holding events.

A sense of humor

Rachel Kerns, a sophomore at San Francisco State, recently put final touches on a 12-foot papier-mache "Draculator." It's one of four huge, in-your-face puppets that students, theater Professor Carlos Barón and artist Colette Crutcher are creating for Thursday's rally.

The group is building a traditional Mexican weeping figure called "La Llorona" to cry for students, dinosaur bones to signify the extinction of education, and a huge skeleton in a graduation cap.

"It's a student who's still paying college loans even after he's dead," Crutcher said with a laugh.

"March 4th, I hope, will give the students a feeling of accomplishment," Barón said. "If we make noise, and if we're heard - if people laugh at our work - then we'll have achieved something very positive. We're not there to scream at people."

March 4th was born on Oct. 24, when hundreds of students and employees from dozens of schools met at UC Berkeley to decide how to keep momentum alive after a major statewide campus walkout a month earlier to protest the fee hikes and cuts in the works.

Since then it seems everyone is planning something for that day.

"We wanted to get involved with the national call by California students who are facing the same crisis as we are," said Chris Persampieri, a student at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Mass., one of several schools in dozens of states holding rallies.

Will it make a difference?

"I don't think March 4th is going to do anything," said UC Berkeley student Yana Pavlova. "We don't have the tangible power to change the law. So at the end of the day, we're back where we started, paying $30,000 for a 'public' education."

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