Alameda and Encinal High School students protest cuts

Jim VargasFor those of you wondering what all those helicopters were doing over Alameda around mid-day, they were tracking the group of high school students who walked from Encinal High to Alameda High, where they rallied in support of high school athletic programs. Apparently, it was the traffic helicopters who saw the students walking and alerted other media. And so many Bay Area news outlets, just as they did last night, paid a visit to our small city. (Pictured above is Channel 2’s Jim Vargas.) Ian Merrifield, Encinal High’s student body president, described how the protest came about:

It started with just a few students this morning deciding they were unhappy with the budget cuts last night and they started grabbing signs. At first, it was a couple hundred kids coming outside of Encinal and then everyone said, ‘Hey let’s march to district office.’ And then we had certainly more than half of Encinal walking halfway across the island to district offices. It all went really, really well. It was great… We came to the district office and few leaders from each school had a meeting with the superintendent and we discussed our plan for action and then we brought all the kids inside the auditorium for a question and answer session.

You can find more details about the protest here.


Cuts made at Alameda school board meeting

Last night was a crowded night at the Alameda board of education meeting at Chipman. Community members were out in full force to advocate for the programs that are important to them.
Crowd at board meeting2

The press was there, at least in the beginning, in big numbers.
press at board meeting

By 11:30 p.m., while the board was hashing out the details of what to put on the final list of cuts, not so many people were left. Near midnight at board meeting

I left at about 12:30 a.m., and they still weren’t done yet. According to Franklin PTA President Christine Strena, who made it to the bitter end, the board voted to cut about half the high school sports budget, reduce janitorial services, and cut middle school counselors. The public information officer position got the ax as did music for children in grades one, two and three. The board voted also to eliminate their $300 a month stipend, which several board members already donate back to the district. Board member Mike McMahon has the full list of cuts on his site.


Recall Alameda’s school board members??

I understand the anger of parents about the programs in our schools that are currently on the chopping block (it boggles my mind that we are actually, and with straight faces, discussing cutting sports from high schools and music from elementary schools), but the news of a move afoot to recall board members if high school sports are cut makes no sense. YES it is horrible to cut art, music, AP classes, sports. NO the board can’t just snap their fingers and get the money back (it is our governor who has proposed the 10 percent across the board cuts and the suspension of Prop. 98). YES we need to band together to find alternate sources of funding for our schools if we want to maintain their current level of service. A local parcel tax, the terms of which the board will vote on tonight, is one way that we have to relatively immediately (vote could be in June) maintain the status quo for our schools. So instead of an I-me-mine attitude and instead of an Us v. Them attitude let us all band together and pass this parcel tax for the good for our schools, for the good for neighbors and for the good of our community.


This Week’s Alamedan: Chuck Stevenson

Chuck StevensonName: Chuck Stevenson
Age: 71
Lived in Alameda: Since 1974
Occupation: Graphic artist (retired 10 years)
Misc: Five children, 6 grandkids
Hobbies: Woodworking, photography, graphic arts

Like best about Alameda?
The people. People are very supportive. When my wife died last year all these people took care of me. I got a lot of hugs.

Would like to change about Alameda?
The traffic! It’s really changed. And about a year ago I started noticing that every time I came downtown, where could you park? Parking is horrible.

Word to the wise
Too many people are too concerned with what they look like and what they have. I have things, but I’m not a materialistic person. I don’t need the newest, the greatest and the latest. If the car can get me from A to B, that’s what I need. People and friends and family–that’s what really matters.


Cutting sports, music, staff, teachers and more

Judging by the number of emails flying and heated conversations about town, it certainly seems like all of Alameda is abuzz with discussions of just what will be cut from the schools. All these are on the table: elementary school music, high school sports (schools without sports?), middle school counselors, high school administrators, closing swim centers, cutting advanced placement courses, raising elementary class size, reducing janitorial and secretarial support. And while we all, of course, have different priorities about how we’d go about cutting, the bottom line is all these cuts are painful and ALL of them will take place in the next school year or in ’09-’10 if the proposed cuts at the state level are passed and the district doesn’t find alternate sources of revenue.

In addition to voting on the cuts, the school board, which meets tomorrow at Chipman at 6:30 p.m., will vote on the language for a parcel tax, which they hope to place on the ballot in June. The draft language presented at last week’s board meeting was for a $120 per parcel tax, with a per square footage tax for commercial properties. Seniors can opt out, as can those on disability. Like it or not, the onus for funding schools is being shifted from the state to local communities. Even our giant neighbors to the north across the estuary just made their $195 per parcel tax permanent.


An artist’s view of the island

I recently had the honor of interviewing local clown and performer Jeff Raz (just back from a year-long tour with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo). And, because—ever since I moved to the island eight ago—I have been pondering our island’s mystique, our island’s je ne sais quoi: What makes Alameda Alameda? I found Jeff’s response, as a world-traveling artist and Berkeley native, quite illuminating: Continue Reading