Parents, Students To Protest Bus Cuts In Sweetwater Union High School District
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / August 26, 2019
A new school year is usually pretty exciting except when students are facing cutbacks that could affect their academic performance.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Thousands of kids around San Diego County are headed back to school today. A new school year is usually pretty exciting except when students are facing cutbacks that could affect their academic performance. Some students and parents in San Ysidro are planning a protest today over cuts to school bus routes and laptops in the Sweetwater union high school district. And joining me as voice of San Diego reporter will hunts, Barry will welcome to the program. Hey Maureen. So this is not the first day back for students in the Sweetwater school district. So they've already felt the impact of these cuts. Tell us about what they're facing.
Speaker 2: 00:38 Yeah, that's right there. A year round school district. They've been back in school a couple of weeks and um, they are facing some serious cuts. The district lost about 30 bus routes. Um, Wa 20 of those bus routes were lost at one school in particular Santa CJR high school. Um, seniors also were informed this year they're not going to have laptops. They're really upset. They need those to fill out college application forms, financial aid forms. Um, and the district has also lost, um, some, it lost some summer school. It's lost some afterschool and teachers have, have lost some planning time all because of budget cuts there.
Speaker 1: 01:15 Now Sweetwater union high school district, they found itself with a major shortfall last year and that's presently under investigation, right?
Speaker 2: 01:23 Yeah, yeah, that's right. This all goes back to September of last school year. Uh, we quickly learned that the district was like, oh my gosh, we're $30 million short. We overspent by a lot of money last year. Um, a state agency then came in and said that, you know, we, we think it's quite possible there's fraud going on here. Uh, we have voice. The San Diego did some further reporting on this and we found that, um, the number two person in the finance office had actually made entries into the budget that, that made it look like the budget was better than it really was. And, and he was even going around saying to some of his colleagues, it's so bad, it's so bad. Um, there are going to be layoffs. So we don't know exactly who knew what when. But at this point, the Securities and Exchange Commission is even investigating Sweetwater.
Speaker 1: 02:20 But as Sweetwater's superintendent, Karen, Jenny just told students and faculty that there is presently no crisis. So why the cuts?
Speaker 2: 02:30 Yeah, yeah, that's right. She had just a couple of weeks ago to a board meeting. She, she said there is no crisis and uh, I think there was a collective groan across the district when she said that. Uh, I mean that's certainly not how these students at CNSC dro high school feel. They feel, they, they, they, if there's no crisis, I think they would like all their resources returned forthwith.
Speaker 1: 02:55 Now you've spoken to some of the students. What do they have to say about the cutbacks?
Speaker 2: 02:59 Well, superintendent, Karen Jannie head mentioned that they had made the cuts that were result of the over spending to try to do it with the least disruption to students. And, um, the students I spoke to were like, what does she consider a disruption? Because we don't have laptops to do the things we need to do. We literally don't even have transportation to get to school. Um, so you can imagine how they took that statement. Really. They, they want somebody to be held accountable for the mistakes and the potential fraud that happened. And that hasn't happened in Sweetwater yet.
Speaker 1: 03:37 How far do some of the students have to walk since their bus route is cut?
Speaker 2: 03:42 Uh, as much as at least six miles. Um, we have a great photographer here, Adriana Hell Ds, and she, um, did a photo essay documenting one student's journey, which takes him about four hours round trip.
Speaker 1: 03:55 Well, as I mentioned, there's a rally planned in San Ysidro over this situation later today, now over at San Diego Unified School district, the largest in the county. There's a plan to move forward with a mandatory ethnic studies program. Tell us about that.
Speaker 2: 04:12 Um, yeah, that's right. So unified, um, the biggest district in the county, like you said, had been kicking around the, the idea of, for a long time of should we require ethnic studies and they decided to finally pull the trigger. Um, students now will have to meet that requirement by 2022 and when they step into class today, they won't actually be required to take an ethnic studies course, but they'll be taking English and history courses with ethnic studies, um, embedded in them to meet the requirement. A handful of schools across the county offer actual ethnic studies. But for instance, the history course I think is called, um, identity and agency in US history. But, but as you know, Maureen, at the same time as San Diego unified as moving forward with this, the state has kind of pulled back with an ethnic studies curriculum. The state had been wanting to make it mandatory as well. But then when a draft proposal of the curriculum came out, um, a couple of months ago, people thought it was way too activist in its language and they also thought it excluded groups. Um, like there was no mention of antisemitism in the curriculum, for instance. So that state curriculum is on hold now. Um, but in San Diego unified students will be doing ethnic studies.
Speaker 1: 05:33 And in that groundbreaking series from the New York Times called 16, 19 about the role played by African Americans in the nation's history. There's a school curriculum component to that, isn't there?
Speaker 2: 05:46 Yeah. And I think it will be really interesting to see if any schools around the county start to pick it up. You know, um, students all know, uh, July, 1776, but they don't necessarily know August 20th, 16, 19, and this New York Times project wants to make that date universally known as well. The date that slaves were first brought to this country in Virginia. Uh, you know, the idea being that that moment has shaped every part of American history since then and there is a curriculum associated with that. So I'll certainly be looking forward to seeing if any schools around the county pick it up. So thank you so much. I've been speaking with voice of San Diego. Reporter will hunts Barry, thanks for your time. Thanks a lot, Maureen.
Speaker 3: 06:38 [inaudible].