Governor Gray Davis's proposed budget, which is now being debated by California legislators, calls for a 45% cut in funding to Disabled Students Programs and Services (DSPS) in all 108 community colleges throughout the state.
CoM President James Middleton opened the meeting by pointing out that DSPS faces a possible shortfall of $595,000.
"We want to make this go away as much as you do," said Middleton, suggesting that concerned citizens flood Sacramento with hand-written and individually-typed letters, because e-mails are routinely ignored.
Dean of Student Services Chris Schultz said that proposed DSPS cuts could run as high as $680,000, with programs and services being affected as follows: counseling, 33%; Adaptive Physical Education, 50%; High Tech Computer Center, 50%; learning disability services, 66%; special classes, 85%; and tutoring, 100%.
DSPS Coordinator Marie McCarthy said that the program has been operating since 1973, serves 1,500 to 2,000 students per year, taught 54 classes last semester alone, and has been an award-winning pioneer in many areas.
"We are the safety net," said McCarthy, "and in many cases the only show in town."
This was followed by three hours of testimony from students, family and advocates, citing the crucial nature of the program to the community and asserting that the Board of Trustees has the power to mitigate the state cuts by judicious use of the college's general fund.
"I cannot ask you to walk a mile in my shoes," said Gaye Brown (right), an Adaptive PE student with multiple sclerosis, "but I will ask you to ride a mile in my wheelchair, and make the proper funding decisions."
Her husband Jay Brown suggested that if cuts are necessary, they should be shared at the top of the chain.
"The good thing about budgets is that they're transparent," said Bob Derzon, Adaptive PE student and board president of Marin Center for Independent Living (MCIL). "They reveal your values."
Instructional Assistant Ducie Wagner read a letter from a woman whose mother, a stroke victim, is a student in the High Tech Computer Center: "We've all heard the catch phrase, 'Education is for life.' In my mother's case, education saved her life."
Susan Brunot, who earned a French degree from UC Berkeley in the '60s, told how she was shot in the head in an armed robbery in Oakland in 1971.
"When I moved to Marin, I couldn't read or write," said Brunot. "I could barely walk. The Adaptive PE program and the High Tech Center helped me live a normal life again."
"This is not just cutting a class," said Dr. Joe Lazor, a paraplegic Adaptive PE student, "but a way of life."
"Use the power you have," urged stroke victim Ted Brash.
Some students were unable to speak directly to the Board. Russell Moore (left), a deaf student, addressed them through sign language interpreter Paula Foster. Aide Cynthia Steussy read a letter written by Nicole Sykes, president of the Challenged Students Club. Sykes, whose speech is affected by severe cerebral palsy, is slated to graduate from CoM this spring.
Lloyd Wiborg, husband of Adaptive PE student Jane Wiborg, read excerpts from 28 letters written by students who were unable to attend or could not speak themselves.
"I worked in Marin County for a number of years as a social worker and as a rehabilitation teacher with the disabled community," wrote Elizabeth della Santini, who suffers from blindness, heart disease, severe curvature of the spine, osteoporosis, arthritis and sciatica. "Now I myself am taking advantage of some of the special courses to keep myself from becoming bedridden or in need of a nursing home."
"If it wasn't for this Adaptive PE program, I would be at home looking out the window," wrote Barbara Dickens, who has multiple sclerosis. "When I first came here I had a walker. Now I have a cane."
"If this program ceased to exist, I would require attendant care at home or would end up in a care facility," wrote Sister Jeanette Eckhardt, a nun who deals with post-polio syndrome. "I feel blessed to be able to interact with such wonderful support staff and fellow disabled students."
"This program has benefited my mom and dad not only physically but mentally," wrote Floria Belli. "The personnel is very loving and compassionate. Where else could an 87-year-old and a 95-year-old find this kind of affordable service? What a disservice to the senior citizens of this community to have huge cuts in these classes."
"My daughter-in-law has attended since September and has gone from a wheelchair to a walker," wrote C. Marci. "Being out of the house and with other people has been excellent for her morale. If this program is not available, she will be confined to the house again, with very little exercise."
"We cannot imagine life without CoM's Adaptive PE program and the communication classes taught by Maureen Green," wrote John Kopshever. "They and all the faculty are vital to our lives and are the only hope we have for continuing stroke recovery."
"Something happens here that does not happen anywhere else," wrote Doreen Rod. "I don't know what I'll do without the program."
"Our program serves a population that is daily increasing in size," pointed out retired orthopedic surgeon Phil Gross, an Adaptive PE student with multiple sclerosis.
"Unless you have close personal experience with a loved one, all of you active, successful, able-bodied and clear-minded people can never fully understand what life is like for the folks who participate in the Adaptive PE program," wrote Jane Wiborg, who also has multiple sclerosis. "For most, it is their lifeline to social contact, exercise, maintaining what capabilities they presently have, and the hope of improvement. The benefits gained are either unavailable or unaffordable anywhere else. You have the power to cut this program, maintain it, or even expand it. When you crawl into bed tonight, I beg you to give some thought to that power. See if you could live with yourself knowing that you allowed this program to be stripped."
In the discussion which followed, each board member expressed a commitment to doing whatever was possible to preserve DSPS.
"I could never in good conscience vote to cut programs like this," said Trustee Phyllis Metcalfe.
"It is a ray of light for people with no choice," said Trustee Barbara Dolan, "and the end of the line. It is the heart of what this college stands for. I think cuts need to be made in other areas, and not with disabled and less-abled students. I applaud you for coming tonight, and I stand solidly with you."
Trustee Larry McFadden, a fiscal conservative, said that circumstances dictated that the board move to make cuts, but added, "I can raise money, and I'll get out there and raise money with the best of you. I can't say there won't be cuts, but I'll do my darnedest."
Trustee Eva Long moved to amend the resolution for certificated layoffs, to exclude any DSPS faculty, but her motion was defeated 5-2, with only Dolan supporting her. The original motion, to issue tentative pink slips for 14.3 Full-Time Equivalent faculty positions (including 2.5 for DSPS), passed by a vote of 4-3, with McFadden, Greg Brockbank, Wanda Treanor and Dr. Francis Parnell for, Long, Dolan and Metcalfe against.
President Middleton suggested that funds be raised by asking college personnel to take a 2% cut in salary, volunteering to do so himself, and said that management staff to whom he had made this suggestion had unanimously agreed. He said that this would cover half the losses threatening DSPS, the college's child care center, and Extended Opportunities Programs and Services (EOPS), and that he thought that fundraising throughout the county could cover the other half.
This statement did not come as an official motion, however, and the disabled community can only hope that action will follow words.
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