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Rallies across California decry high-education funding cuts [Updated]

March 4, 2010 |  4:24 pm

A day of passionate protest against education funding cuts attracted thousands of demonstrators Thursday to generally peaceful rallies, walkouts and teach-ins at universities and high schools throughout California and the nation.

From Los Angeles to New York and from San Diego to Humboldt, students, faculty and parents at many schools decried higher student fees, reduced class offerings and teacher layoffs in what organizers describe as a "Day of Action for Public Education."

"We are paying more to get less of an education. That’s why I’m out here today to protest against that," said Cal State Long Beach art education student Jessica Naujoks, who joined an estimated 2,500 others at a campus rally there.

There were reports of some trouble in northern California. Demonstrators blocked access to UC Santa Cruz and smashed the windshield of a car, triggering denunciations of such violence. At UC Berkeley, fire alarms were pulled in some classroom buildings, interrupting lectures. [Updated at 6:36 p.m.: More than 100 protesters went onto the 880 Freeway in Oakland, forcing authorities to temporarily shut it down during rush hour. Some streets near Cal State Northridge were also being closed by police because of demonstrations there.]

In the sprawling Los Angeles Unified School Districts, walkouts were reported at six schools, involving about 540 students in all, many of whom then returned to class, officals said. "This was very, very calm," said Earl Perkins, asst. superintendent for school operations.

In Southern California, the largest event was expected to be in downtown Los Angeles’ Pershing Square, where busloads of demonstrators arrived from schools across the region. They then were to march a few blocks away to the state office building on Spring Street.

Earlier in the day, campus police estimated that about 500 people gathered at UCLA’s Bruin Plaza. Chanting "Who’s got the power? We’ve got the power," students and professors walked out of classes for the lunchtime protest. Later, a crowd held a sit-in at Murphy Hall, the school’s administrative headquarters, but police guarded the office of UCLA chancellor Gene Block to prevent a possible takeover.

UCLA Professor Sara Ö Melzer joined her students in a walkout from their French culture and writing course because she said she wants to stop what she described as the privatization of public higher education. "It’s not just about student fee hikes," she said. "That’s the tip of the iceberg."

Roselyn Valdez, 28, an anthropology graduate student at Cal State Northridge, participated in the UCLA demonstration and held white sign that showed a skeleton drawing black print that read "RIP UC." She said it stood for the demise of the public education system that helped her study at Los Angeles City College, UC Santa Barbara and now at Cal State Northridge.

Valdez said she used loans, scholarships and worked various jobs to pay her education costs. "With fee hikes I can’t imagine anyone else having the chance that I did," she said.

At Cal State Dominguez Hills in the Carson area, about 50 students gathered in front of the student union with some shouting "Give My Education Back" and carrying signs that proclaimed: "From Pre-K to Ph.D., Let Me Go to School." They played a mock wheel of fortune game with stops that included "graduating in four years with a good education" and "getting a 30% fee increase."

Chris Morales, 22, junior majoring in business major, said it was good to be part of a large protest effort, linking rallies around the state and nation. "I feel like this is a big movement that might make a difference," he said.

At UC Santa Cruz, upward of 200 protesters blocked the two main campus roadway entrances and reportedly smashed a car windshield with a metal pipe, officials said. There was no report of injury to the driver and no arrest was made, although police are investigating the matter. All UC Santa Cruz employees were told not to attempt to drive to campus for the rest of the day.

Campus provost Provost David Kliger denounced the windshield incident. "Behavior that degrades into violence, personal intimidation, and disrespect for the rights of others is reprehensible, and does nothing to aid efforts to restore funding to the university," he said in a statement posted on the campus website.

UC Berkeley, about 150 protesters – at times chanting "Money for jobs and education, not for war and incarceration" – blocked the main pedestrian entrance to campus, Sather Gate, for a while, although they allowed disabled students through. Some demonstrators marched through some classrooms where classes were briefly interrupted and some fire alarms were pulled, a campus spokes person said. Later, a crowd of about 1,000 marched into the Telegraph Avenue shopping district and through city streets to the UC system headquarters in Oakland, about six miles away. Berkeley police said there were no arrests and no reports of damage by late afternoon.

--Larry Gordon in Los Angeles, Carla Rivera in Long Beach, Nicole Santa Cruz in Westwood

Video: The Downtown protest. Credit: Nicole Santa Cruz / Los Angeles Times

Photos: 1.Students dance to a zydeco band as they join hundreds of Cal State Long Beach students, teachers and parents in rally and protest during a national day of protests against education funding cuts. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2010) 2:  Trade union members form a picket line Thursday in Bruin Plaza at UCLA to protest continuing budget cuts and fee increases in public education. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2010) 3. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / March 4, 2010)

Protesters are reflected in sunglasses at UCLA. Similar protests across the country are billed as a "Day of Action" and spotlight severe cuts in education that have struck schools from coast to coast.