Colleges Rally for Money in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO (CN) – With the future of California college budgets being decided inside the governor’s office, faculty and college-employee unions rallied at the Capitol on Thursday, urging Gov. Jerry Brown to provide more money to higher education.
     The Reclaim Higher Education Coalition submitted a letter to Brown on Thursday, asking for increased funding to prevent or allay tuition hikes, and for higher pay for faculty, whom they say have suffered the most from education budget cuts.
     “California must renew its commitment to its public colleges and universities, so it may once again provide an affordable education and be an engine of economic growth and good jobs in our communities,” said Jason Rabinowitz, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 2010.
     Hundreds of teachers, administrative workers, union members and students rallied on the west steps of the Capitol, representing the first coalition of its sort in California. The groups, who say they are collaborating to “fight for a road to the middle class,” say California’s leaders have strayed from the master plan for higher education through a series of budget cuts that began in 2007.
     “We have a study that shows that over the past two decades the administrative and clerical workers of the UC have seen their real income slashed by 20 percent, once you count inflation, retirement contribution, increased parking fees and all the rest of the hikes they impose on us,” Rabinowitz said.
     Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano have formed a two-person committee, of themselves, to work out details of the state universities budget.
     The two have publicly battled over the spending, with Napolitano asking for more than $100 million in additional funding.
     Brown has threatened to slash additional funding if the UC system increases tuition.
     Napolitano said last week that the UC will cap enrollment numbers if it does not get the extra money.
     The coalition says that increased tuition is not the solution, and that accountability from universities’ and colleges’ administrators is important.
     “Under no circumstances are tuition increases acceptable,” said Anke Schennink, financial secretary of the UAW Local 5810. “We will not agree to balance our budgets on the backs of students.”
     Participants came from across the state to speak about the inequality of the higher education system, representing the UC, Cal State campuses and community colleges. A group of women from Los Angeles and members of the clerical Local 2010 union held signs stating, “UC pay us enough to live” and asked the UC to quit contracting out jobs.
     “We’re starting to see a lot of contracting out,” said Michael Avant, a UC San Diego Medical Center employee. “It creates a bad, bad community. Those contracted workers deserve a fair wage and benefits.”
     While the UC system receives most of the attention, community colleges have been hit particularly hard by the recession and the resulting budget cuts, said Dean Murakami, president of the faculty association of California community colleges.
     “With California finally coming out of the recession, our state legislators have cut the funding to community colleges and other public services at a time when the people of California needed help the most,” Murakami said. “We’ve lost over 600,000 students. The governor has left behind too many students.”
     Speakers at the rally said that Proposition 30, approved by voters in 2012, has been abandoned, and higher education has suffered. Combined with seven consecutive years of budget cuts due to the financial slump, students and employees of California’s colleges took a direct hit.
     Jelger Kalmijn, President of UPTE-CWA, Local 9119 told the crowd that higher education should be free and that Brown quit following California’s master plan for education a long time ago.
     “This is not some fanatical, radical dream this is where we should be today,” Kalmijn said of free education. “The master plan in 1960 said there will be free tuition for higher education, and most of us here remember when community college was free.”

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