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Nicole Brown, 16, raises her hand in Spanish class to explain the importance of public funding for education.

Tech students who stayed in class get lesson in funding crisis

on March 5, 2010

Spanish II with Judith Bojorquez started right on time at Oakland Technical High School yesterday, at 1:50 p.m., the first post-lunch bell.  Sixteen kids filed in, took their seats, and began copying the chalkboard’s “do now” question into their notebooks.

Por que nos importa lo que hace el Estado de Calif. con sus escuelas?

Why do we care what the state of California does about its schools?

Outside, nearly  two thousand people were taking to the Oakland streets to protest cuts to public education.    The K-12 community was for the first time joining the higher education community in these calls for change in the way California funds public education; at Tech there was leafleting before school, a district-planned protest called a “disaster drill” at 9:15 a.m., and large groups of students who left school at lunchtime to join the college students marching down Telegraph Avenue for the March 4 Day of Action in Defense of Public Education.

But most Tech students stayed in their classes — and some learned about the funding crisis right there.

Ms. Bojorquez, checked her roster while the students worked to answer the “do now” question with their developing Spanish skills.  She noted that about half of the class was absent.  They were on their way to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, she guessed, to join the rally against state education funding cuts.  “We’re teachers, we don’t like it [when students leave class],” she’d said before class.  “But, it’s great too.  It’s a chance for them to do their civic duty.”

Bojorquez returned to the front of the room and pointed at the question written on the board in the perfect script of an older generation.  A student in the back read out the question as Bojorquez perched on an empty desk holding the class seating chart, ready to record class participation.   She turned to her students, “who has an answer” she asked in Spanish.

A sign, created by students, tacked to the bulletin board in the back of Ms. Bojorquez’s classroom.

Es importante para nosotros porque necesitamos dinero para una buena educacion para los estudiantes,” Sampson Mao, 16, read off of his worksheet.   Or, in English: “it’s important for us because we need money for a good education for the students.”

Nicole Brown, 16, raised her hand next.  “I’m not sure this is right,” she said. “But como se dice ‘future’?”

Instead of just telling Nicole how to say “future” in Spanish, Bojorquez pointed to a huge sign on a strip of butcher paper tacked to the bulletin board in the back of her classroom.  “Nuestros Estudiantes = El Futuro de California,” the sign read,  Our Students = The Future of California.

“Okay,” said Nicole said, and gave it another shot.  “Es importante porque educacion es muy importante para nuestro futuro,” she said.

Bojorquez kept the lesson rolling.  She explained in Spanish to Fred Thompson, 18, a senior who has just signed on to play Division 1 football for the Oregon State Beavers, that if the cuts continue there might be no money for football equipment at Tech.  Fred replied, also in Spanish, that that was okay, because he would be going to Oregon State.

Tienes un hermanito?” Bojorquez asked. Do you have a little brother?

Si,” replied Thompson.

“Won’t it affect you if your little brother can’t play football?” she asked in Spanish.

Thompson did not reply at first, either because his vocabulary wasn’t good enough—this is Spanish 2, after all—or because he wasn’t sure how to answer that one.

Bojorquez went on to tell her students, first in Spanish and then again in English when they seemed not to understand, that University of California fees had increased 32 percent the previous semester.

“How would you feel if your rent went up by 32 percent?” she asked in Spanish.

The students were a little wide-eyed at that.

She told them about how Proposition 13, approved by the state’s voters in 1978, limits property tax increases for corporations as well as individuals in California.  She pointed to the industries in Richmond as an example of companies that benefit from paying low property taxes.  She told her students that California was number 48 in education spending, out of all 50 US states.

A girl in the second row nodded.   Another teacher of hers, she said, “is always telling us that.”

At a press conference in downtown Oakland, a few hours later, the superintendent of their school district, Tony Smith echoed Nicole Brown’s declaration that education is very important for our future.

“We have to raise our voices louder than ever,” Smith told a crowd of teachers, students and parents gathered in front of the state building as part of a citywide rally to protest cuts to public education.  “Here in Oakland we have to be together,” Smith said.  “We have to be unified to say we can’t cut education anymore.”

A number of suggestions were made at the press conference as to legislative changes that might help ensure that Fred Thompson’s brother gets football equipment next year, and Judith Bojorquez’s 32-student Spanish II class doesn’t grow beyond the boundaries of her classroom.

A statement from State Senator Loni Hancock and read by her district representative, Pedro Rosado, for example, said “California is one of the only states with a 2/3 budget rule.  This has created chaos,” Rosado read, noting that Hancock has introduced legislation to change the 2/3 requirement.  “It has forced legislators to make concession after concession.”


Students in Ms. Bojorquez’s Spanish II class on March 4.

Smith, after the press conference, said he agreed. “I don’t think we should be a majority controlled state,” he said.

Smith also said he thought Oakland must look for other sources of revenue.  “I think we have to do at least the parcel tax,” Smith said, referring to a new property tax that has been proposed to help raise funds for Oakland teacher salaries.

The parcel tax initiative does not have the support of the Oakland teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association, because it would provide support for charter school teachers as well as traditional public school teachers.  Charter school teachers are not union members.

Bojorquez is a union member, as are all teachers in the 109 non-charter district schools, but she did not get into the history of unions or the stalled negotiations for a new contract that prompted the OEA this week to call for a one day strike on March 24th.  She didn’t have time.

It was 1:58 and the “do now” activity was over.  Time to get on to the next topic: direct object pronouns.


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