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Community college students present ‘demands’ to Schwarzenegger

San Diego City College students protested at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s San Diego office Monday - demanding changes to the state’s budget to offset the cuts made to higher education.

The students, who are also members of City College organization Bringing Education and Activism Together or BEAT, say they are faced with fewer classes for their buck and a longer road to graduation because of the millions cut to the California Community College system.

About 30 students gathered outside of the state office Monday evening seizing signs that read statements such as, “Don’t ruin our future” and “Return California’s education system.” The rally was a conclusion to a day-long dissent of the Governor after nine students occupied Schwarzenegger’s lobby in the morning hours. The nine students, who say they felt “placated” by the Governor’s representatives, had three students speak via telephone with Schwarzenegger’s Director of External Affairs Bismarck Obando. Schwarzenegger, however, was not available to speak.

“They just want to make their presence and concerns known,” said BEAT faculty advisor and political science professor Larissa Dorman. “The cuts are happening because of the two-thirds majority vote required in the Legislature and the fact that a third of the lawmakers are neo-liberals, pure capitalists, who believe education should just be thrown away.”

The students demanded that the Governor fulfill or, at the least, consider three requirements:

1) Eliminate the requirement in the State Legislature that stalls fiscal related bills and tax increases without a two-thirds majority vote.

2) Apply an oil severance tax for companies extracting oil in California.

3) Increase taxes by 10 percent for those earning $250,000 and 11 percent for those earning $500,000.

The students, who were accompanied by Dorman and later, City College’s Dean of Students Denise Whisenhunt, said if those demands are met - more funding would be available for California’s future - or in other words — public education.

“We told him [Obando] our demands and pretty much, he was in opposition to all of it,” said City College history major Jose Rodriguez. “Without public education, we will not be able to have a future…. We deserve better.”

Due to a peak in California’s deficit at the start of the recession, state legislators chose to make a budget cut to the California Community College system of $850 million for the combined school years of 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. The budget cut forced Community College administrators to reduce the faculty by 30 to 40 percent, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Additionally, students saw a tuition increase of $4 dollars per unit, which administrators hope to bring in at least $80 million in revenue for campuses. A student typically takes around 12 units a semester.

The $4 per unit is a hard hit to students say protest attendees, who chose Monday because it would have been the start of intersession classes had the funding to the school not been cut.

Twenty-four-year-old Anthony Ortiz, a history major, said it’s a two-fold hit to students. They’re faced with increased costs and a limited selection of classes.

“The classes are really hard to get into and tuition has gone up,” he said. “So you’re paying more for less. ”

Ortiz, who said he’s receiving aid from his parents at the moment, said he’ll probably be “badly in debt” by the time he graduates and estimates that it make take an extra two years to receive his degree.

Political science major Crystal Browning, 27, also said it would take her an estimated two more years to transfer to, what she hopes, will be UC Berkeley. Browning, who was one of nine students to occupy the building and to speak to Obando, said she felt dismissed by the Governor’s representatives.

“They were nice but if you looked at their body language, it showed that they were really pissed off that nine students were there,” Browning said. “And, it’s crazy to think that nine students would require two cops with full on gear.”

According to the students, after they had entered the building - two California Highway Patrol officers were called to the Governor’s office. However, according to the Governor’s office - CHP officers are staffed at the state’s office and their presence was not abnormal. Media representatives were not allowed to enter Schwarzenegger’s office.

Despite what the students say was a dismissal by Schwarzenegger’s office, spokesperson Andrea McCarthy said their thoughts will be addressed after Obando listened to them for 45 minutes.

“Their concerns were taken down and they will be considered,” McCarthy said. “But when it comes to these sorts of cuts, the Governor understands how the students feel; but he also knows that the state can only spend what it has — it’s an economic reality.”

However, if the Governor does not address their concerns — Browning told protestors they would find other ways.

“Hopefully they’ll listen,” she said. “If not, we’ll find another avenue to have our voices heard.”

Hoa Quach is the political editor for the San Diego News Network. Follow her on Twitter or add her on Facebook.