The future is here, and so is the unthinkable--no libraries or sports for school children

In the last several days a school district in the Bay Area has announced the unthinkable, due to budget short falls, thousands of children will no longer have a library, music, or athletics. This is shameful when we consider the huge tax breaks received by the top 5% in income. This is why we have functional layers of government, and state and federal tax systems in order to avoid such a catastrophe and outrage. We are not a third world nation--this is the United States for god's sake, and yet these children are now being forced to live with the shame of thinking that they ARE different and ARE somehow inferior crushing their optimism and hope for the future. Imagine a United States without music and art and laughing children, well that is the path we are on in a state and country led by those who refuse to raise taxes of those with incomes over $250K annually.

Students react to sports, library cuts
Many distraught in West Contra Costa

On the public campuses of West Contra Costa, where resources have always been scarce for students and schools alike, two things were generally believed to be protected, essential components of the school experience: books and sports.

So as news spread Tuesday morning that school libraries and sports programs were on the chopping block along with counselors, elementary school music classes, the district radio station and other programs, reactions were strong, ranging from anger to disbelief to denial.

"They took it personally," said former Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter, who fielded 25 calls from distraught players Tuesday morning. "We let the kids down."

Throughout the district's high schools, students angrily questioned why their programs were on the block in their district but not in Walnut Creek or Orinda. Some wondered about their own district's management, or their parents' failure to get involved; others wondered darkly if race played a factor. Most just wondered, without answers.

The reaction was most visible at De Anza High School in Richmond, where most of the 1,452 students walked out of class Tuesday morning, either to picket with signs or just vanish in protest, said Principal Dave Moss.

There wasn't much learning going on amid the outrage, he said.

"It's in the air. People are breathing this," Moss said. "They're not going to think about much else right now."

Justin Morrow 14, a freshman football player from San Pablo, unfurled a construction paper sign scrawled with the words "No Sports, No Students." Like many athletes, he said his anger at the possible loss of the program went well beyond his love of the game.

"For most of us, it's all we got to get to college," the husky linebacker said. "My moms ain't going to pay for me to go to college."

Freshman Melissa Felix, 16, said the possible loss of water polo -- a sport that already was struggling without a full-time coach -- meant to her a loss of the motivation that brought her GPA up from 1.1 in middle school to 2.7 -- the minimum required to participate in sports.

"If they take that away from us, there's nothing for me to do," she said.

Even more academically inclined athletes, such as Chazny Morris, 15, a sophomore and top point scorer for El Cerrito High School's girl's basketball team, said sports were a critical part of their schooling. Morris said she was doing well enough in school for an academic scholarship to study pediatrics, but she sees basketball as a backup financing plan -- and something important enough to her that if it is cut, she will consider another school.

"It's the only sport I play, and if it's cut, it's the only thing I have to do after school," she said. "I need something to do."

While student athletes' angry reactions were most visible, there was wide awareness that sports are not the only thing on the block.

De Anza senor Ruth Gebreyesus, 16, brought her cello when she joined football players at Tuesday morning's picket to call attention to possible cuts to music classes and planned closure of school libraries -- plans she considered particularly odious in a district that has recently pushed for wider literacy.

"They're hypocrites. If you want us to learn, the library is part of our education," said Gebreyesus, who has been accepted at UC Santa Cruz to study environmental law. "It's quite sad."

De Anza Librarian Carla Gee took a break from recommending a new detective novel for Gebreyesus to worry about the future of her collection of 17,000 books and 16 computers -- most of which don't work. When she came to the library a few years ago, she said, it had only 10,000 books, many of them out of date -- such as geology books with no mention of plate tectonics, the modern theory of what causes earthquakes.

"Our libraries are so wonderful now. We're at the peak," said Gee, who will be out of a job if the cuts go through as planned. "Here we are trying to promote literacy, and they won't have books to choose from, because the door will be padlocked."

Coaches and principals made a point of emphasizing the need for a well- rounded curriculum of athletics and academics -- an idea not lost on the students, noted Principal Moss, who said approvingly that student picketers carried signs for both football and libraries.

"I can't imagine a comprehensive high school in modern America not having athletics and libraries," Moss said.

Even further off the radar were people like Barbara Quein, El Cerrito High's counselor, who lost her position last year only to see it restored in July by a last-minute deal between the district and her union -- and now faces unemployment again.

Quein worries what will happen to students if they don't have somebody to turn to monitor their performance and plan their path to graduation and beyond.