Updated 11:00 am: Nearly a week after they stopped eating solid food, three seniors at San Leandro High will ask school board officials to dip into the district's reserves rather than cut more teachers if California voters reject a statewide tax hike in November.
Veronica Mandujano, Kayla Ely and Anai Rosales plan to address board members Tuesday night at a 7 pm budget review meeting being held at the district's offices at 14735 Juniper Street.
"I think they're feeling the heat," said Mandujano, adding that the fast was intended to dramatize how the student body was being starved.
School Board President Morgan Mack-Rose said Tuesday that she and school district superintendent Cindy Cathey have met privately with the students to better understand their positions and explain the board's decisions.
Mandujano announced the hunger strike last Tuesday to send layoff notices that would allow the district to cut 52 positions -- eliminating sports and trimming music, librarians and counselors -- if state voters reject proposed tax hikes, creating another $2.54 million hole in the local school budget.
Ely, who was on the high school wrestling team, said she joined the fast because she was the eldest of five children who would have to attend San Leandro High, and she wanted them to have the same opportunities she had.
"Wrestling was so important to me," she said. "I learned confidence and discipline. I can't let my sister and brothers miss out."
All three students are part of San Leandro High's Social Justice Academy, which has a curriculum focused on economics, history and activism. Academy teacher Erica Viray-Santos said she had tried to talk the students out of the action and that it was not a class-sanctioned event.
Nevertheless, she is proud of the trio.
"They're seniors, they're not coming back, it's not for them," she said.
The students want the school district tap into a reserve fund instead of planning for layoffs. But the board says most of that reserve is already set aside for short-term expenditures like textbooks.
For the board's part, issuing layoff notices puts pressure on the San Leandro Teachers Association to extend some concessions that have effectively cut its members' pay in recent years.
The layoffs could be rescinded by May 15 depending on how the district and the teachers strike a deal. The two sides met last week but nothing was resolved.
The hunger strikers have not just focused on the local school board. They have joined student activists statewide to support a ballot initiative that would impose an extraction tax on oil that is pumped out of wells in the state.
That initiative, numbered 1522, is now in circulation. It must get nearly 505,000 signatures by April 19 in order to qualify for the ballot, according the the California Secretary of State's office.
The Secretary of State's analysis said the initiative could raise $3 billion in increased funding for education.
Mandujano said, at very least, she wants the school board to come out in favor of the initiative. She has also talked with State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leadro) to seek her support.
"California is the only state that produces oil that doesn't have this," she said.
Asked whether she intended to keep up her fast indefinitely, Mandujano said that wasn't her intention. She just wanted to move the board in some way.
"Last week when they made the cuts they didn't even seem to show remorse," she said. "I need to see that."
School Board President responds
Mack-Rose said that the board had been anguishing over the cuts since October when the dimensions of the potential shortfall started to become clear. But those meetings were virtually unattended. The public only packed the last two sessions at which the board cast the votes to issue layoff warnings.
"The decision may have seemed perfunctory but it wasn't," Mack-Rose said. "We know that schools are more than classes and textbooks, and that sports and counselors and librarians matter."
On the issue of reserves, Mack-Rose said the board had already drawn down on those accounts to protect school programs against the loss of state funding. Since October, when reserves were about $9.8 million, she said they've shrunk to about $4 million. Tonight's meeting will go into detail.
Mack-Rose argued that the board believes it needs concessions from employees to prevent layoffs because reserves alone are insufficient. She said 25 layoff notices issued last year at this time were rescinded after the district and unions struck a deal.
Pushing a parcel tax has been another way the school board has tried to avoid cuts, Mack-Rose said. But polling sugests that two-thirds of San Leandro voters are t such a levy at this time.
The most likely area of agreement between the board and the fasting students could be public support for ballot initiative 1522, the oil extraction tax. Mack-Rose said she would seek a board resolution in support of the initiative.
"We'll see if we can get concensus around that," she said.
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