May 2022 Advocate: Teach-In on District budget

Understanding our district’s budget

AFT 1493 Teach-In exposes truths about District’s inequitable budget decisions

By Cat Stoehr, AFT 1493 Student Intern, & Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co-Vice President

Nearly 70 students and faculty members participated in a teach-in organized by AFT 1493: From Austerity to Prosperity: The Politics of Funding Education in SMCCD – Students, Staff & Faculty Unite to Re-imagine Educational Equity on Thursday, May 12th.

The teach-in, specifically focused on the power and influence of funding decisions on our education, was initially brought to the union’s Contract Action Team (CAT) at the beginning of the spring semester by AFT 1493 student interns and Skyline students, Cat Stoehr & Shannon Hoang. They recognized that many students move through the education system without ever being truly exposed to the underlying structural issues that shape their experience, as well as the experience of faculty, staff and campus community members. Cat and Shannon’s vision of the teach-in was to create a space that would foster greater curiosity and awareness about how the seemingly abstract issue of budgeting and dispersion of resources creates very real material impacts on our collective experience in the SMCCD community. As the union was preparing to enter negotiations for a new multi-year contract, CAT members saw the teach-in as an exciting way to inform faculty and students about the inequities in the district’s distribution of funds and build long-term engagement and faculty-student activism. [Watch video of Cat Stoehr & Shannon Hoang’s introductory remarks.]

The lively and engaged audience was treated to short remarks by local elected officials, faculty members and students who spoke on the various ways that budget decisions contribute to inequity in our college district, as well as sharing how we, both on an individual and collective level, can begin to affect systemic change. After the speakers, participants had an opportunity to collectively imagine exactly what a budget that prioritizes the well-being of students and faculty could look like, and how our district could move from austerity to prosperity for all.

The first speaker of the day, Dr. Rod Daus-Magbual, adjunct Ethnic Studies instructor at Skyline and the mayor of Daly City, eloquently summed up the importance of envisioning budget decisions that better reflect our priorities: “I hope this teach-in will push our imagination [to] reflect higher education that advocates for student and teacher wellness, a sense of security, purpose and hope. Budgets reflect our values. It’s challenging but not impossible.” [Watch video of Dr. Rod Daus-Magbual’s presentation.]

The next speaker, James Coleman, current South San Francisco City Council Member and candidate for California State Assembly representing District 21, spoke to how state-level policies, especially measures such as Proposition 13 that allow for the ultra-wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, directly impact inequity in education and in our communities. He shared some progressive solutions, including a wealth tax currently being proposed in the California Legislature (AB 2289) that would, “place a modest wealth tax on those with assets of $50 million-plus.”  According to Coleman, this bill could, “generate over $22 billion in revenue every year and this could be used to increase public education spending […] but also address homelessness [and] affordable housing.”  The wealth tax would be paid by less than 1% of Californians. [Watch video of James Coleman’s presentation.]

Oliver Tinoco, a Skyline student transferring to SF State who is a fierce advocate and ally for LGBTQ+ and undocumented student issues on campus, spoke on how administrative decisions on how  to spend money often leave the most vulnerable students behind. He shared how he was prevented from taking a Latine literature class he had enrolled in because the class had been canceled only weeks before the semester began, reflecting a larger pattern of the administration canceling classes, often at the very last-minute, and in this case after fall registration was over.  Often the classes that are canceled are the ones that serve marginalized communities, like Latine and LGBTQ+ students.  He referenced how this pattern of canceling classes also contributed to Skyline’s failure to achieve its status as a “Hispanic Serving Institution”, partly because it did not hire enough Latine faculty and staff, and also because it did not provide classes that serve the Latine community, which make up 30% of the Skyline student population. Tinoco pointed out the hypocrisy in institutions that attempt to use language of equity, while not actually following through with actions: “I started feeling frustrated and honestly, more than anything, disappointed that they’re able to collect so much funding and resources but completely fail at pouring it back in directly to the campus and to the programs and students that need it the most.” [Watch video of Oliver Tinoco’s presentation.]

Jessica Silver-Sharp, adjunct librarian at Skyline and Cañada Colleges, pointed out the personal impacts that wage and benefit inequity have on the livelihoods of our part-time faculty, who make up nearly 60% of SMCCD instructors and 80% of community college faculty statewide. She spoke to just how tenuous the experience of part-timers is in SMCCD, such as the requirement to teach a 40% load to be able to qualify for the healthcare reimbursement, even though part time faculty have no control over whether their classes are canceled. Silver-Sharp commented: “It should be obvious to our administration that sick, stressed-out teachers cannot perform as well as healthy ones and that we cannot support our students as well if we’re struggling ourselves. She added, “And while our district has the financial means to correct these budget inequities, it’s by choice that they don’t prioritize part-time teachers.” [Watch video of Jessica Silver-Sharp’s presentation.]

Doniella Maher, full-time Cañada College English instructor and an organizer for the ballot initiative: Early Care and Education for All in South San Francisco, wove together facets of how funding inequity often widens the already existing gaps in pay and treatment of those who experience race, gender and class discrimination. She presented how caring labor, which is work that includes teaching and childcare and that is often undertaken by women, particularly women of color and working-class people, is essential to our community, but also systematically devalued in a “broader movement of deprofessionalization.”  Maher stated: “The reality of sexism and racism in our society is that caring labor, which disportionately includes women, and often women of color, is paid less than other work that requires similar levels of education and experience. And two-tiered systems within caring labor means that a sector of that workforce makes even less than the already low wages associated with those kinds of jobs”. She also spoke to the importance of early childhood care and education as essential to allow parents to hold their jobs, underlining how inequitable salaries across multiple levels of education have the most impact on those who are already vulnerable. [Watch video of Doniella Maher’s presentation.]

Throughout the event, the student participants asked questions in the chat and shared the connections they were making between the information presented and their own knowledge of faculty struggles and commented on their own experiences at our colleges. They registered their shock about the unfair two-tier system in our district: the fact that part-time faculty are paid less than full time, lack job security and aren’t provided with a full program of health benefits but, instead, a reimbursement stipend. Students were also enraged to find out that the district offers no paid parental leave for faculty members.

After the speakers, the event transitioned to an interactive activity, led by Tim Rottenberg, adjunct Skyline Middle College instructor, in which participants created a “People’s Budget,” a budget that reflects the priorities of our SMCCD community. Participants suggested areas where we believe there should be both increased spending on community needs and decreased spending on areas that don’t clearly benefit teachers, staff and students.

Some suggestions for how a more just budget could better reflect the needs of the community were to increase spending on healthcare for part time faculty; provide more women’s/gender/ethnic studies classes, smaller classes in general and more tutoring services; offer healthier and more varied food options on campus; and provide more transit connectivity.

Then when it came to areas where our district could decrease spending, the suggestions from the participants included: cut back on the numbers of district administrators and reduce high administrator salaries; deprioritize unnecessary and ineffective marketing ventures; avoid funding construction projects that produce buildings that don’t meet student and faculty needs; stop contracting out work that can be done in-house; and be more intentional about spending on classroom resources.

The words of Skyline student, Oliver Tinoco, powerfully describe the outlook of many students and faculty:  “You cannot exist on a campus championing diversity and inclusivity that then fails to uphold those two pillars on a day to day basis […] Ultimately it just creates the sort of environment where […] students are starting to feel as though the school that supposedly embraces us and champions celebrating their students is doing it all in vain. It is at its most basic, and most simple, a matter of putting your money where your mouth is”

We closed the event by announcing the formation of a Student Action Committee to provide a space for students to organize and advocate for change alongside faculty members.  Please reach out to union organizers, Rika Fabian – or Katharine Harer – to get involved!