More than ever, Napa Valley College’s quad was the campus hub Monday, as dozens of students turned out to protest budget cuts to California community colleges.
Brandon Smith, a 19-year-old Napa resident and former Napa Valley College student, said the idea behind the protest was “opening up people’s eyes and getting them organized” to speak out against ongoing cuts. Citing recent fee hikes as a leading reason why he’s not attending school, Smith rallied with friends Monday in the crisp autumn afternoon.
Smith said it’s no secret that higher fees at community colleges and budget cuts at the university level are getting in the way of students’ access to higher education. “It’s important this info gets out,” he said. “Together, we can make a difference.”
Alex Shantz, the college’s Associated Students senator of social science, called the protest “the first step of what’s going to be a broader student movement.”
Administrators say the college is facing a $1.5 million gap next year in its $34 million budget.
Shantz said he’s feeling the pinch of the state-mandated free increase from $20 per unit to $26 at Napa Valley College. Because he plans to eventually transfer to a UC campus, Shantz said he’s also concerned about enrollment caps and planned fee hikes at the state and university levels.
NVC’s quad will be the center of the action through Dec. 18. For the next few weeks, various workshops and events will take place there, he said.
Frank Runninghorse — a Concord man who said he was the college’s student body president in 1995 and is now a community adviser for Students for a Democratic Society — engaged the crowd in call-response fashion Monday.
“Community colleges are under attack! What do we say?”
“Rise up! Fight back!”
Nearby, Joel Schor of Vallejo manned a table representing the Solano County Peace and Freedom Party. He offered scores of informational fliers from several agencies and provided students an opportunity to register to vote.
Joanne Gifford, Napa County campaign coordinator for the California Majority Rule Campaign, collected student signatures to get an initiative on the November ballot. If it qualifies for the ballot and passes, the measure would mandate that state budgets could pass with a mere majority vote of lawmakers, instead of the current two-thirds requirement. Gifford said the state’s flawed budget process is hurting schools.
“They’ve already cut education to the bone. There is nothing left,” she said, adding that California’s most needy residents, including students, are shouldering a disproportional amount of state budget cuts.
“It falls on the less advantaged,” she said. “People that are well-to-do don’t have to worry about this kind of thing.”
Armond Phillips, the college’s interim president, said when it comes to frustration about budget cuts to California’s community colleges, students and administrators are on the same page. Although the state sets community colleges’ budgets and fees, he said, administrators are working to “minimize the impact on quality teaching and learning” at the campus.
About $1.2 million in one-time federal stimulus funds helped to offset some cuts to the college’s categorical programs this year, which include services for disabled students and counseling. But Phillips said the college will still be looking at a $1.5 million budget hole next year.
About 50 for-credit courses were eliminated this fall and 50 more could be cut in the spring because of budget shortfalls. Phillips said summer school class offerings could also be cut “significantly.”
Cuts are also prompting the college’s administrators and board of trustees to look at offering early retirement packages for some staff members, he said, adding that although the college isn’t currently turning students away, it’s hard to say what the campus’ fiscal future holds. “We’ll get through this, though,” Phillips said. “Well try to be creative and come up with solutions that get us through it as much as we can.”