Susan Chung came to the United States from Vietnam when she was 5 years old. One of nine children, Chung says her family was much too overwhelmed to get involved with her schooling.
“We were just trying to survive,” she said. “All my parents did was work.”
But now that Chung, an Alhambra High School grad, is a mother, she is very concerned about her daughter’s education.
“What can you do with just a high school diploma? I want my daughter to achieve way higher, bigger than me,” said Chung, 38, who was recently laid off as a customer service representative at an Alhambra company.
Last Wednesday, with a potential $8.8 million budget cut looming over the Alhambra Unified School District and several critical education-related measures on the Nov. 6 election ballot, Chung did her part by registering to vote for the first time.
If there is one year her vote matters, it’s this one, according to her daughter, who now is an Alhambra High School student. Last Wednesday, mother and daughter attended a town hall meeting about the “trigger cuts” to education and other services in the state budget. The school district’s fundraising organization, the Alhambra Education Foundation, organized the event and the panel consisted of teacher union representatives, the head of the PTA, the district superintendent, and a school district board member.
Around a hundred teachers, school staff, parents, and students attended the town hall in the San Gabriel High School auditorium. The school’s principal, Jim Schofield, said in his 42 years attending schools and then working at the district, “this is the worst I’ve seen” in terms of a financial crisis. He began teaching in 1989 right before the previous recession in the early 1990s, but even then, he did not see the kind of program cuts and increase in class size he’s seen implemented in recent years.
District officials say they have already cut away $53 million over the last five years. Chung’s daughter has seen the effects of these cuts first hand. She has also seen driver’s education eliminated, along with a Cantonese language class. Advanced Placement classes are now harder to get into, and music and arts programs are stretched thin according to other students, who were set up outside the auditorium selling Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, nachos, and hotdogs as a fundraiser for their clubs.
The difficulty students are having getting into AP classes, which can look good on college applications, is the result of the district being “fiscally responsible,” said Schofield. They cannot add an extra AP class until a full class of students, around 30, sign up for it. A class with 20 or so students would be too expensive to run.
Students who are constantly being driven to do well in school and get into good colleges are now under more pressure than ever. Schofield says tutoring programs to help struggling students have been cut, along with other support service, adding that if there is no money, then their schools must eliminate classes like AP calculus so that core classes remain intact.
“It worries me. I’m concerned for the future of our students. They may no longer have access to the same rich experience at school,” Schofield said.
Alhambra Teachers Association President Dr. Roz Collier says if Proposition 30, a tax measure to fund public education as well as other social services, fails to pass this November, statewide budget cuts will be triggered. The teachers would then need to go to the negotiating table with the district to discuss the possibility of cutting 10 days from the school year. Class sizes could be further increased, and programs including AP classes, electives, music and arts, and sports could be cut, as well as counselors and other support staff. Right now, some physical education classes have ballooned to as many as 90 students per teacher because there is no educational code cap on them like there is for other classes.
The town hall also included information on Proposition 38, similar to Proposition 30 in that it would also raise money for education. The proposition was created by the PTA and is considered a competitor to Proposition 30, sponsored by Governor Brown, though the PTA representative on Wednesday night’s panel said they are not anti-Proposition 30. During the town hall, which is part of a statewide effort by teachers unions to educate the community, Collier also spoke against Proposition 32, which would prevent teachers unions from making political contributions. She said the proposition would only benefit big corporations, which spend and have at their disposal tens of millions of dollars to run commercials. “How can we compete with that?” she said.
Maria Trujillo, 37, said her family “came out to see how we could help” with the school budget crisis, and to learn more about the ballot measures. “The commercials don’t explain very well what everything is,” she said.
Trujillo said she wants to make sure her daughter, who was impacted when the college-readiness program AVID was cut, is not further affected by the cuts. “I only have one child,” she says, “and so everything has been geared toward getting her to college, getting to the right school and classes.”.