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Attendees: We won’t let cuts hurt advances we have made

Citizen Staff Writer



Parents, educators and students in Sunnyside Unified School District came together Thursday night to say they don’t intend to let plans by state Republican legislators to cut more than $133 million in education hurt the advances they have made.

“Today’s Economic Crisis and its Impact on our Schools” was the theme of this year’s annual Town Hall, sponsored by the South Side district and the Tucson Citizen.

It was a timely topic because the Legislature is mulling how to get out from under an anticipated $4.5 billion deficit this fiscal year and next.

At the Sunnyside High School gymnasium, 1725 E. Bilby Road, about 350 people from the community and district employees brainstormed to determine what programs and services are most important to them and to suggest ways to save money.

Topping the list of keepers: Fine arts, all-day kindergarten, physical education, a preschool, extracurricular activities (including afterschool recreational programs), the teenage parent program and the district’s innovative Digital Advantage program, which has given more than 500 laptop computers to high school freshmen this year.

Cost-saving ideas included eliminating field trips, sending letters home with students or sending them electronically instead of mailing them, limiting student worksheets, cutting back on electricity, limiting evening transportation, eliminating Internet access for students and buying supplies from cheaper sources.

“What if every parent donated an energy efficient light bulb to their school?” suggested Carmen Garcia, who has four children including triplet eighth-graders at Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School. “And why can’t we go solar?”

“Cut back on clubs and field trips, but not education inside the classroom,” said former Desert View High School student Amanda Long, 16, a charter school student who intends to go back to Desert View next year.

Lauffer Assistant Principal Donna Samorano said people should talk about a four-day school week, although she knew it could cause problems with parents who would need to pay for child care on that fifth weekday.

“But it would save on transportation costs, wear and tear on schools and heating and cooling costs,” she said.

Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo assured the crowd, “We’re not talking about layoffs, of people losing their jobs.” But he said summer school and some recreational programs, among other things, were at risk.

The crowd applauded loudly when fine arts was announced as something that needed to stay in schools.

“Music is very important. My brother just wrote music for our school (Lauffer),” said Giovanni Garcia, 14. “We need music at our schools. Our teacher even puts her own money into it.”

Classmate Kimberly Sheets, 13, agreed. A cello player in the Lauffer chamber orchestra, she said she intends to go to The Juilliard School some day and taking away music “would take away how I am preparing for Juilliard.”

“I would die,” she said.

Her mother, Rhonda Sheets, said she has seen improvement in her daughter’s math skills since she has taken music and learned to read music.

Bob Fox, father of two Sunnyside students, said, “We have to protect our children. Funding in this state is a disgrace. We’re 49th out of 50th. We can’t cut anymore. But if we have to, we need to cut buildings; we can’t make cuts that will impact our children.”

Bertha Valenzuela, who has a son at Challenger Middle School, said, “This problem was created by the banks and Wall Street. We have to cut millions when they have been given billions. It’s not fair.”

Desert View information technologies teacher Chris Walden-Jones urged the audience to go to the Arizona Capitol on Feb. 26 and participate in a Rally for Public Education.

The Sunnyside Education Association member hoped there would be buses or carpools to Phoenix that day. “We need to show the state how important education is to us,” he said. “If we’re not going to show up, it will show we don’t care.”

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