UC Merced sophomore Valery Nechay spoke out against UC fee increases and diminished funding to public education in general Thursday afternoon in front of a small crowd on the school's quad during a nationwide protest against cuts to public education.
"We're robbing our work force of their future resources," she said.
Nechay, the main organizer of the campus protest, said she was disappointed Monday night when, out of a class of more than 100 students, only a few raised their hands when asked by their professor if they knew the significance of March 4.
Nechay said that needed to change.
"Just because we're in Merced, we shouldn't be in a bubble," she said.
A small group picketed and handed students fliers outlining their five demands, which are: an end to fee hikes; reformation of the UC regent structure and agenda; an end to furloughs; UC budget transparency and additional funding for kindergarten through 12th-grade education.
The UC regents approved a 32 percent fee increase for students in November, raising tuition to more than $10,000 next fall. Yet, UC regents promised to offer more financial aid to make school affordable for the most needy.
The rest of Merced's educational community also held protests Thursday and voiced frustration over the state's $17 billion in cuts to public education over the past two years to address California's $20 billion budget shortfall
Statewide, more than 16,000 educators were laid off in the past two years, according to the California Teachers Association.
At Merced College, Thursday was a mixed bag of mourning, solidarity and frustration.
Educators and students dressed in black in recognition of teachers and programs that have been slashed.
On the lawn of Merced College, employees and students created a graveyard full of tombstones commemorating classes that were cut last year and this year.
Merced College Student Senator Victoria Ortega said she was a victim of some of those cut classes.
She planned to transfer to CSU Sacramento last fall, but because she couldn't get the classes she wanted she had to stay at Merced College another year, she said.
Tuition at community colleges has gone up 30 percent during the two-year fiscal crisis.
Merced College Associated Student President Spencer Bowen said community colleges are the public's open door to education.
"We're hoping to keep this door open for students," he said. "What's left for them when we have to turn them away from classes?"
Merced County public schools held some small protests on various campuses and, after school, teachers gathered in Bob Hart Square under the new California Teachers Association office.
Joel Knox, chairman of the Merced California Teachers Association, told school officials this day was important because it's making the public aware of the unseen cuts to education, such as the effects of larger class sizes on students and teachers.
"We can't have quality public schools without funding," he said. "Schools can no longer make improvements without proper funds."
This year, Merced Union High School District is looking to nearly decimate its library program. Last year, Atwater Elementary School District and Merced City School District made significant cuts to the work force.
Teachers must be given layoff notices before March 15.
Another march to support public education is scheduled for March 22 at the state Capitol.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video: Rally at Bob Hart Square in Downtown Merced
Video: Protest at Merced High School