Budget battle continues at Peralta colleges

January 11, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif.--Students, staff and faculty in the Peralta Community College District successfully pressured the board of trustees to postpone $5.6 million in budget cuts for the second time on December 15.

Led by the No Cuts Peralta coalition, nearly 100 students and staff marched from Laney College to the Peralta district office to protest the budget. Despite the board's announcement early in the day to postpone the vote on the budget, protesters turned out two hours before the meeting to voice their opposition to the cuts.

"We should see this as a victory," said Mer Stevens, a member of the coalition and the International Socialist Organization. "The fact that they decided to postpone this vote until students are on winter break shows that they are afraid to pass cuts in the open."

The proposed budget for 2009-2010 would cut millions from desperately needed student services such as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which provides outreach and retention support for disadvantaged students, and the Disabled Students and Programs Services. According to Vice Chancellor Tom Smith's figures, the district had $15.8 million in the general fund, which could pay for the proposed cuts nearly three times over.

Tensions grew at the December 15 meeting when the board of trustees began the meeting 45 minutes late. Loud chants of "We've waited long enough, start the meeting now!" emerged from the audience.

At the meeting's start, the board announced its decision to hire three new administrators, two of which to be paid a six-figure salary. Attendees were outraged, since in the week before the meeting, the administration had handed down a dozen layoff notices to staff and teachers.

"How can staff and teachers be getting laid off when administrators are getting raises?" asked staff member Wanda Williams. "How can they lay off staff and teachers when they just filled in three new administrator positions?"

Many speakers demanded that administrators cut their own salaries before cutting classes and student services. Sara Connors, union representative for the Peralta Federation of Teachers Local 1603, said, "Either you take a pay cut, start representing us in Sacramento or get out!"

Other speakers urged the board to postpone the vote on the budget until January 26, when the Peralta Colleges start the spring semester. At present, the vote is postponed to January 12, when most students and staff are away on winter break.

"They went and switched the date to vote for the budget to when they know no one will be around," said Markita Price, a student at Merritt College. "Even if they don't switch it to the 26th, I'll still be there to raise hell tonight."

Despite the temporary victory, it's clear that the administration and the board of trustees are intent at passing down cuts. Whether or not the budget is passed in January, layoff notices have been handed down, and classes and sections for spring have been cut.

However, the second postponement of the budget and its potential vote in the middle of winter break shows that the growth of activism and organization had made the administration uneasy. As the March 4 statewide day of action approaches, students and faculty in the Peralta District are discussing and debating next steps to fight the cuts coming from the administration and Sacramento.

David McCarthy contributed to this article.

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