The crowd was small but the ambitions were big at a Sonoma State University rally Thursday afternoon, where students, teachers and members of the community gathered to protest Gov. Jerry Brown's intention to cut $200 million for education next year if voters do not approve his half-cent sales tax hike measure in November.
At the rally, dubbed, the "Buck Starts Here," Sonoma State students came close to filling a clear plastic cube with blue $750 million California State University Reserve Notes with the governor's photo. Each student explained in writing on the back of the bill how the budget cuts over the past several years have affected their life's plan and their education in the 412,000-student California State University system.
The cube started circulating the 23 CSU campuses in November, beginning at San Diego State University. It will travel to the campuses in Humboldt County, Chico and Sacramento before it is delivered to Brown's office.
Students here deposited 850 bills. In the end, they said their hope is that the box will contain 10,000 bills when it reaches the Governor. Students are also preparing a "March in March" in Sacramento on March 5 to protest the cuts to education.
The "Bucks Starts Here" also serves to educate fellow students about funding cuts to higher education, and let them know how they can make a difference, according to university officials.
Students at the noon rally under a hot sun said the budget cuts have forced them to take "placeholder" classes they did not intend to take just to remain enrolled in the CSU system because they could not get into in the classes they need.
Others said they will be attending the Rohnert Park campus for the fifth year straight.
Laura Paneno, a theater major who has an athletic scholarship and competes in cross country running, admitted she is one of the luckier students because she has priority registration.
She has noticed "a lot of pressure on campus when students are signing up for classes," she said.
"People are cranky and they wind up thinking only of themselves," Paneno said.
Alex Boyar, a graduating senior majoring in business, is president of the Associated Students at Sonoma State. He said he has heard about students working three jobs to pay their tuition, leaving school for a couple years to attend a community college or to work because they cannot get in the classes they want.
"Class sizes are larger and tuition is going up," Boyar said. "It's a little draconian," Boyar said.
Sean Richards, vice-president of Legislative Affairs for the California State Student Association, said he petitioned state legislators to stop cuts to education. He said parents in the state are cashing in their 401(k) plans to finance their children's education and some students are voluntarily becoming
State funding for education is back to the 1997 level, Richards said.
SSU President Ruben Arminana told the students the CSU system lost $750 million, or 30 percent, of its revenue this year. He noted Governor Brown's father Edmund G. "Pat" Brown made an investment in quality education in California that was affordable and accessible.
"Things in the past few years have become dysfunctional," Arminana told the crowd.
Gov. Brown's proposed $200 million cut if the November tax measure fails "will do incredible damage to Sonoma State University and the state," Arminana said. "There will be less faculty, and less people to serve you and less of you."
Another 22,000 students will not be admitted to the CSU system, he added. Arminana and Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane urged the students to exercise their power by voting in November.
"Send the message to legislators that there is a consequence at the ballot box," Arminana said.
Richards underscored the student-driven campaign: that for the future of California and its students, the bucks start with higher education.
"Students can occupy campuses, but that won’t get much accomplished," he said. "If they focus their frustrations toward lawmakers making the decisions to cut funding, it’s the most effective and proactive approach to make a change."
Supervisor Zane cheered the effort.
"Occupy the ballot box. Go for it," Zane said.
This article is by Angela Hart and Bay City News. Copyright © 2012 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.