SMC Students Rally Together to Support Budget Cuts Protest

A cry for a fairer slice of the state budget rang around Santa Monica College grounds March 4, as the campus quad was transformed into a stage for protest against cuts to Californian public education. SMC students, faculty and classified staff descended upon the quad during activity hour to raise in a public forum the many concerns they have regarding further proposed cuts in state wide public education spending.

These included a fear that a potential price hike in tuition will see fees increase from $26 to $40 a unit, and a general dissatisfaction that state funds are being mishandled, apportioning too much money on prison spending and providing unnecessary tax breaks to large corporations. These issues inspired one student at the end of the rally to call for the impeachment of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: a comment that garnered a rousing cheer.

Presiding over events, Cameron Quinn, president of Students for Social Justice, started proceedings by stating, "You, I and everybody are screwed," before listing some statistics regarding the allocation of state funds. According to Quinn, in 1982, 10% of the Californian budget was spent on public education, dropping to 7.5% today. This is in contrast to current figures that show 13.5% of the budget is directed towards Californian prisons.

Another topic Quinn raised was the subject of the two wars in which America is currently engaged. He said that the combined cost of the U.S. wars since 2001 totals nearly 1 trillion.

"Instead of all that money being spent on the American war machine," Quinn said, "just imagine all the good that could have come from the money being put into education."

Not without a hint of controversy, Peggy Rhoads, representing the classified staff, took issue with SMC's $15 million reserve fund. She questioned the decision by the Board of Trustees and college administration to sit on the money as opposed to using it immediately to prevent further class cuts. She suggested that their decision is unduly influenced by a fear of ongoing financial hardship.

However, Eric Oifer, president of the Academic Senate, somewhat refuted Rhoads' claims when he said that the college is doing everything within its means to maintain the quality of education at SMC.

"SMC administrators are doing the best possible job they can to see the college through these troubled times," said Oifer, "but the real problem is in Sacramento. It's the people in Sacramento you need to write to. It's the people in Sacramento you need to call."

Oifer also held up the owners of the Dodgers baseball team as an example of how current state legislature entitles large corporations to huge tax breaks, something he feels should be reconsidered during times of drastic cost-cutting in the public sector.

Oifer said, "last year the owners of the Dodgers earned $90 million…but they paid zero in taxes. They make out that they care, that they care about the city, but they don't care about you at all."

AS President Cameron Henton offered practical advice about how students can become more actively involved in the Californian budget debate. He said that while rallies are successful at drumming-up public support, students would play a more invaluable and influential role should they be more directly involved in the Californian budget debate.

"We need to be part of the dialogue and have a say in our education," said Henton, before he urged students to call or write to state senators and assemblypersons. He also said that those students who wish to take their participation to the next level could involve themselves in regional or state student governments, thereby having an active voice in major student issues.

After the rally, Breana Morelock and Matt Mangeri, SMC students majoring in fashion and business respectively, said that while they already knew much of the informational content of the rally, they did find the news that more state dollars go to prisons than to education rather disturbing.

"If you want to stay out of trouble," said Mangeri, "it seems like you go to prison and get yourself a free education." Morelock added that she intended to join the student contingent headed for Pershing Square later that day where a larger rally was orchestrated.

Reflecting upon the event, Henton said that he hoped that the rally would "motivate students to get more involved" in matters that have an important bearing upon their lives.

He expressed worry that some people may have become "complacent" in their awareness of fundamental issues, but felt confident that the rally would, in some small way, readdress the issue.

"Ultimately, it's all about Sacramento" said Henton, "but I believe that if we show solidarity against those up there who are butting heads, we can really achieve something."