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At PCC: Confusion and complacency on Prop. 30

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A handful of students gathered in the Pasadena City College quad at noon Thursday holding "Yes on Prop. 30" signs and trying to educate their peers about the nearly $7 million in more cuts they'll face if the measure fails to receive a majority of votes next month.

Most students kept walking. A few stopped at the laptops on the table to register to vote or to ask questions; others to grab some Milk Duds.

Benjamin Rincon stopped by the table to change his address. Rincon, 22, couldn't remember whether he's a second- or third-year — "it's been too long," he joked. He's studying accounting and communications and had been planning a while ago to transfer to a four-year college. 

He's planning on voting against Prop. 30.

"I'm against increasing our taxes," Rincon said. "...Budget cuts have been happening, so I guess I'm getting accustomed to it. I'm not sure. I'm doing OK so far with the budget cuts. Of course, I wouldn't like to spend another year here, but I'd rather spend an extra year than increase taxes again."

Rincon said that as an accounting student, he felt that there needs to be more accountability in Sacramento.

"I'm not happy about [cuts], but there's not many options out there," Rincon said. "I don't see them. So I'm not happy about them, but I also feel like I can't do much about it..."

"I am suffering. I am. I shouldn’t be here anymore. I should have been in a four-year college by now, but the budget cuts reduces the amount of classes I can take, so I have to take them over a longer period of time."

Pasadena City College stands to lose more than $6.7 million this year if Prop. 30 — presumed to pass in Gov. Jerry Brown's adopted 2012 budget — fails to garner a majority of votes next month. The California Community Colleges will lose more than $338 million and K-12 education will lose roughly $5 billion.

In Pasadena, community college students have weathered heavy cuts: 500 sections were cut this year, there is no longer a winter term, and a hiring freeze has been imposed for all but the most vital positions, said PCC spokesman Juan Gutierrez.

If $6.7 million in cuts go forward, that would be equivalent to Pasadena City College cutting out more than 1,480 full-time equivalent students. Prop. 30's passage will avert more deep cuts and restore funding that has been borrowed for years, Gutierrez said.

"This restores us to a level of two to three years ago," Gutierrez said. "It certainly doesn't add anything to help us with students that are displaced or people trying to retrain to get a job."

The California Community Colleges includes 112 campuses statewide and are the largest system of higher education in the world.

Since 2009-10, the system has been hit by about $770 million in reductions, nearly 13 percent of its $6 billion budget. A more than $338 million cut in 2012-13 alone would translate into the loss of roughly 75,500 full time equivalent students, according to a tool by the nonprofit Community College League of California. (Look up the impacts of the passage/failure of Prop. 30 on your district.) 

From 2008 to 2011, community college enrollment dropped by 500,000 students, said system spokeswoman Paige Marlatt Dorr. Last year, California's community colleges had to turn away 200,000 students — they couldn't get into a single course, she said.

If Prop. 30 passes, the community colleges will receive nearly $210 million, the majority of which will go to pay IOUs to schools, but about $50 million of that money will be "growth" money, said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, an association of 72 community college districts. That $50 million is the equivalent of opening up 10,000 full-time equivalent student spots, Lay said.

Because billions in school funding rest on the passage of Prop. 30 under the current budget, students and educators at community colleges, UC, CSU and public school districts throughout the state have held information sessions to provide details on what Prop. 30 does and why they believe it must pass.

John Fraser, the vice president for external affairs for the Associated Students of Pasadena City College, has tried to lead that educational effort on his campus and regionally. He is also president of Region 7 of the Student Senate for the California Community Colleges, which has made the passage of Prop. 30 its No. 1 priority.

"Speaking to a population of students, it's very clear that students have an issue with complacency," Fraser said.

He's worked with campus groups over the last couple months to get as many as 500 students registered to vote. Fraser also hopes to hold an information session on Prop. 30.

A number of students who stopped by the table at PCC Thursday did not know much about Prop. 30 beyond the ads they'd seen on television or heard on the radio.

Rincon said some say money will be put aside in a lockbox no one can touch, but others say that's not true. "That's what they say," Rincon said, "but the ones opposing say that's not true. Nothing guarantees it. So what are we supposed to believe?"

Cuauhtemoc Hernandez, 21, registered to vote Thursday. Hernandez was sitting at a table in the quad Thursday to help raise money for his club when a student came by and made him "feel like a terrible citizen" because he wasn't yet registered to vote.

"I just didn't get to it just yet. I was going to do it eventually. I guess I waited a little longer than I should have," Hernandez said. "...There are certain issues that are occuring at the California election that are particularly relevant ...particularly the labeling of genetically modified foods hasn't been brought up in any other election. That's something that shouldn't be taken lightly."

After the rally, Hernandez said he planned to take a look at Prop. 30 and planned to do more in-depth research before casting his vote.

Marcus Garvui Acostas Wilder Sr. stopped by the table to try and change his address. He plans to vote for Prop. 30 because he said it's important to bring back money into schools.

"I have to watch how many classes I can take each semester so I can have money for books," he said. As a result, he's taking a single personal business and finance class this semester along with a swimming class.

Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of La Cañada Flintridge spoke to students at the rally, urging them to focus on their own future. "We can't focus on how we got here, we've got to focus on where we're going and we need Prop. 30," he said.

Andrew Kane Bott, president of the PCC Democrats Club, helped organize Thursday's event, which he said was planned somewhat hastily a few days ago. Bott is a second-year student studying organizational psychology.

"This is one of those rare times we have the opportunity to seriously affect our own lives and our own future," Bott said. But he said the last couple weeks have made it hard to educate people on the measures with dueling propositions and negative ads that are spreading false information.

"I was even confused last week," Bott said. "...You'll hear different ads on the radio, many other places coming up, and you don't know who's telling the truth. It's gotten to the point where the liars lie so well that you don't know who's the liar anymore. We just don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't. So a big part of this is going out and getting educated."

Bott said he's heard many students discussing politics around campus and spreading the misinformation they heard in ads. After watching classes slashed last year and this year, and then seeing an entire term get cut, Bott said he believes Prop. 30 must pass and will.

"I don't know the future," Bott said. "But I believe that when folks go into the ballot booth and they have that decision to make and they decide, 'Do I care about college students? Do I are about educating the future of America?' They're going to decide to do it."

"...For me raising taxes, asking people who make $250,000 to pay a little bit more, and paying a cent every time I buy a burger is worth not just my future, but the future of students...It’s worth it."

Confused about Prop. 30 and Prop. 38? Visit KPCC's political blog Represent! or listen to the experts talk with Larry Mantle on AirTalk. KPCC's education blog Pass/Fail will also be doing an analysis prior to the election, so stay tuned. (And in case you're having trouble finding it — here's the text and the LAO analysis.)

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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