BUDGET CUTS UNITE COMMUNITY
By Evangel Penumaka
Newark Unified student board member
Before this school year, I wasn’t very concerned with the number of budget cuts being made. I hadn’t realized the consequences of these changes and felt they wouldn’t really affect me. At the same time, I had no idea who was making all these decisions that would change our school and passed it off as the Faceless Man who could care less about the schools, the students and the teachers. That being said, my experience on the Newark school board has opened my eyes.
This year, I’m piecing together how everything works, what different factors play a role in the decisions made, as well as the number of people who make these decisions. I learn new things at every board meeting, and I’ve realized how naïve I was. These cuts will affect everyone, regardless of the different impact it has on us.
Despite the enormity of these changes, something amazing is happening in how it is uniting everyone – students, parents and teachers – to fight for students’ education and for staff jobs. I was more than surprised and thrilled when I went to the March 2 board meeting and saw the room packed with parents and students who had come to state their concerns.
It was inspiring seeing fellow classmates speak so eloquently and passionately. There were more than 35 people who spoke, delaying the meeting for almost two hours, but I didn’t have any complaints about this wait. Several times, I experienced goose bumps at the words of the person speaking, and many times I found myself scanning the room, admiring the fact that so many people were supporting the fight for our education.
Along with directly speaking out against the cuts, many students have participated in rallies. Newark Memorial High participated in the Black Wednesday rally in March, similar to last year’s Pink Friday in protest of the number of teachers that received pink slips. This time, students and teachers wore black to signify the decline in our education as well as the state budget. When school ended, they stationed themselves on Cedar Boulevard with posters and flyers to convey their views on the statewide budget cuts.
I understand that local cuts are necessary to ensure we can remain financially secure in the coming years. I understand these decisions have to be made, in spite of knowing that people will not be pleased. But I also see how difficult it is for this board and other boards to make these cuts, especially when they see people speaking out so passionately. It’s a challenge when students come and ask the board to see the impact a certain change will make; to make sure a program will remain in the coming years. Members of the board want to give students every opportunity possible, yet can’t because of the financial situation we are in.
No one wants these cuts, but it’s important for both sides to understand the other – for students to understand why changes are being made and for the people in power to fully comprehend how these changes will affect the public. That said, it’s amazing how it has brought students, teachers and communities together. The fact that they’re fighting for their education, that they’re determined to make their voices heard, makes the overwhelming situation a little better.