Peralta board meeting shut down

April 19, 2010

OAKLAND, Calif.--Protesters gathered on April 13 to demand that Alameda Community College's child care center remain open after the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees voted unanimously to shut it down by July 1.

"I find if very inconsiderate and disrespectful that you guys didn't give us proper notice," said Debbie Atami, a single parent who uses the child care services at Alameda Community College.

She addressed the board of trustees during the public comment period: "It's hurting us, it's taking a toll on us, and it's really stressing us out. Closing the center is going to take its toll on my son's future."

Cutting off child care at Alameda Community College will mean increased hardship for students with families. There is still a waiting list for the child care centers at Laney and Merritt Colleges, which also face cuts. Assuming these students get their children accepted to these child care centers, it will add more financial and logistical hardship because they will have to travel to and from the city of Oakland.

"I work 10 hours a day, five to six days a week, to support my child as a single mother," said Rebecca Mason, a mother of a student at the center. "Having to take someone from Alameda to Oakland may seem simple, however, if you do not have a car and have to take the bus, that cuts into my work hours. I need to keep my job, I need to keep my sanity. I need to make sure my son has a fighting chance in this world."

Dozens of supporters came out in solidarity. Michelle Araica came from Skyline Community College, which faced a similar situation last year. "At the end of last fall, we were told our center would be closed due to budget cuts," she said, "but we raised enough support on our campus...and [the board of trustees] were able to preserve our center for two more years."

The board maintains that it needs roughly $270,000 to keep the child care center running and the district lacks extra funds. But the district lacks proper priorities, not funds. Administrative raises in the 2008-2009 school year were approximately half a million dollars. Last December, the district had enough money to hire three new administrators, two of whom received six-figure salaries.

Additionally, the district has spent $100,000 to appeal a lawsuit by the Bay Area News Group to publicize documents pertaining to a corruption scandal involving Peralta Colleges Chancellor Elihu Harris. During the public comment period of the board meeting, students, staff members and faculty expressed their outrage at the board's decision to close down the center. Many demanded that the issue be put back on the agenda.

The audience began stamping their feet and chanting, "We want a response now!" Within minutes, board members left their seats and continued the meeting in closed session. Demonstrators clapped and cheered, "Chop from the top!" and "Elihu Harris, you can't hide. We can see your greedy side."

Protesters then temporarily took over the district office and held a meeting to discuss the next steps forward. After the meeting, activists had very lively discussions about the action. Some participants voiced their disapproval and argued that they thought it was necessary to appeal to the board in order to come to a general agreement.

Many expressed their approval of the action and argued that it was important to demonstrate that, as long as budget cuts are being handed down, administrators will have to answer to protesters. What's clear is that more students and members of faculty are fighting to prevent administrators from balancing the budget on the backs of families.

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