By Theresa Harrington
With school budget cuts making headlines daily, elected officials are receiving lots of of e-mails from constituents trying to persuade them to save prized programs or positions.
When the Mt. Diablo school board deliberated earlier this month about how to cut more than $1.2 million a year by axing the hours of more than 100 secretaries and other non-teaching positions, trustees heard from plenty of people who didn’t like the plan.
“I received some of the nastiest, rudest e-mails that I think I’ve ever received since I’ve been a board member,” trustee Gary Eberhart said, during the April 13 meeting. “That’s troubling, because I think the cases that the e-mailers were trying to make were without merit. To make statements that I ‘don’t care about students’ and I ‘don’t care about employees’ is not something that I take lightly.”
A e-mail from Ygnacio Valley High student Audrey Roldan, on the other hand, prompted him to vote against making massive cuts to school office staff that night, he said.
“I’m going to vote against this motion because I don’t think we’ve seen how we’re going to be able to serve kids at sites,” he said. “Audrey sent me an e-mail today and reminded me of why I’m here as a board member. I don’t know what else we’re going to cut if we don’t cut this, but I can’t support this motion.”
Instead, the board asked staff to meet with union members and come up with a plan that would spread the cuts more evenly among office workers at schools and the district office. Trustees will vote Tuesday on the new proposal, which takes less hours from school sites than originally planned and more from the district office.
Audrey, a 16-year-old junior, proudly told me today she feels that she made a difference by writing to Eberhart. She gave me permission to reprint her e-mail here:
“April 12, 2010
Dear Mister Gary Eberhart,
My name is Audrey Roldan, Junior Class Vice President at Ygnacio Valley High School. I would like to voice my concerns on the recent budget cuts involving our treasurers.
Our school has one treasurer, Mrs. Malin. Mrs. Malin helps the school budget all the bills, teaches us future financial skills and collects money from all school organizations.
This year, an event planner stole $6,500 from us, which was supposed to go towards our Junior/Senior Ball. Mrs. Malin has helped by planning a budget plan for us to use even after the money loss. She teaches about financial skills by showing us how to plan and pay for expensive items appropriately.
For example, she helped plan out a budget for us to pay for our ball venue. Also, Mrs. Malin collects all the money from school organizations, like dances, sports fees and parking permits.
When students can’t pay the full amount for something, she allows them to deposit money, which is very helpful to the student body. Without her, our school would not function as smoothly as it does now! Thank you for your time.
In February, I wrote about the prom planner Audrey referred to — Cassandra Grill. Some of Audrey’s classmates contacted the Times because they could not reach Grill. Although Grill claimed she did not breach the contract , the school is moving forward with its prom without her.
“Our prom is going to be on May 15 at the Exploratorium,” Audrey said. “We’re just making final touches on everything and it’s going well.”
Now that Audrey has seen firsthand that her opinion mattered to Eberhart, she said she will likely write to elected officials in the future when she is concerned about issues.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “When he e-mailed me back, I was surprised. I was excited.”
Audrey learned that she could express herself effectively by making her points clearly, without attacking the board.
“I was really surprised that people were being rude,” she said. “I thought it was kind of immature for them to maybe use inappropriate language or something. I would never talk to an official like that.”
Audrey encourages others to write to elected officials, if they feel strongly about decisions being made.
“It helps,” she said. “And if more people do this, then the board will listen.”
My own daughter, who is also a high school junior, recently received a letter from the governor’s office in response to a letter she wrote. Although she has written to numerous public officials as a class requirement, this was the first response she had ever received.
“Someone really read my letter!” she said, excitedly.
Do you think it makes a difference if you write to elected officials?