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Illustration by Sarah Evans,
L.A. Youth archives

This year the state cut money to schools to close a $24 billion budget deficit. To save money, schools laid off teachers, resulting in larger class sizes, and canceled programs and activities. Here, some of our writers share the changes they saw when they returned for the new school year.

Some of my classes barely have enough seats for everyone. On the first day of school, my seat in math was in the far corner and I couldn’t read the board. Luckily I was able to move to another seat but in the next few days students with schedule changes were added, and someone sat in my old seat. They also used the spare desks by the door. It’s hard to see the board from those seats because of the angle.
    With the increased class sizes, it takes longer to go through a math lecture since the teacher has to answer more questions. Instead of being able to go over homework quickly and teach the lesson slowly, we spend half of class answering questions, leaving only 20 minutes for the new lesson. Our teacher tells us to finish reading the lesson on our own and come back with any questions the next day. At home I sat in my room, frustrated as I stared at an inverted cosine graph, wondering where the starting point was. Of course the next day we’d come back with questions, taking up more time from the next lesson, creating a snowball effect. 
    And in AP European history, which has always been a popular class for sophomores, our teacher has asked for donations for supplies. In previous years the class had 80 to 90 students in three periods, but this year there are 111 students in those three periods. With the 20 extra students, there should be another class added but the school won’t let the teacher have a fourth AP Euro class because she also teaches two periods of geography.
    The course is challenging and the teacher makes sure we’re prepared for the AP test with her intensive schedule, which includes weekly Scantron tests and special folders for essays.
    Although the number of students increased in the past year, the money the school gives my teacher for supplies did not. With more students, $184 will not be enough to cover the Scantrons, which are 10 cents a piece, and folders, which are $1 each. On the first day of school she asked us to donate at least $2 each to help pay for the materials. I don’t mind paying the $2 but it’s the principle of having to pay it that bothers me—in California we pay one of the highest income and sales taxes in the country but the legislature is incapable of balancing the budget, forcing teachers to find their own way to help their students succeed.
Stephany Yong, 15, Walnut HS

I was really excited about the new school year for two reasons: 1. It was my last year (I’m a senior!) and 2. AP art history. When I signed up for AP art history last year, the teacher told us that we needed 36 people in the class. They told us it was because of budget cuts (last year the class had about 27 students). They said that if it’s not a core class, they can’t afford to have a class that isn’t full. So me and the other students who also had signed up for the class spent the last few weeks of school recruiting the extra people. We got enough people to join to make it a 36-person class. Then, the week before school, the class was canceled because of budget cuts. Disappointed already, I was even more depressed by what I saw in the rest of my classes on the first day of school.
     My statistics class has 39 kids. The class usually has 32 students. Even with the extra tables that the teacher brought into the class, one student had to sit on a chair with a binder on her lap as a makeshift desk. After the first day my teacher moved stuff around and although everyone has a seat now, one girl’s desk is actually the computer desk while another guy’s desk is one of the teacher’s desks.
     In my advanced drama class, they mixed in beginning drama too. Our drama teacher wondered how she was going to teach beginning and advanced drama in one class. It’s hard to switch classes and counselors advise students to drop classes they don’t need so that other kids who do need them can take them.
     Students are openly complaining about classes. The freshmen are complaining because a lot of them didn’t get biology or the math classes they need and most likely have to wait until next year to take them. The administration said that if the school gets more money they’re going to open more core classes rather than electives.
     A lot of teachers are teaching double subjects. We have a new Chinese language teacher who also teaches math. My school is probably suffering the worst in the district because we have the most students. We have more than 3,000 students while the other high schools have around 2,000 students.
     The last year of high school should be a great experience, but now I worry about what’s going to happen after seeing my school change so much from the budget cuts. I feel unfortunate that all this happened during my last year. Our teachers are struggling to make up for the lack of space in classes and though it may be hard, I know I can still learn from my classes even if I have to work harder. 
Michelle Ruan, 17, Alhambra HS

Budget cuts have affected my school, Whitney High School, but the changes are not obvious. Talking with the vice principal, Mr. Glonchak, he told me that Whitney is avoiding making changes to class sizes. Instead, the school is cutting back by using less paper and energy. Also, Whitney can’t afford to hire new teachers and that limits the number of classes offered per course. Several teachers on the staff are teaching subjects they don’t normally teach even though they are qualified, such as the French teacher teaching a class of Spanish and a P.E. teacher teaching history. Both of these teachers had taught these subjects before, but have just returned to teaching them. Glonchak also told me that all school employees got a 2.1 percent pay cut along with fewer teacher prep days to save money.
     I appreciate the efforts my school has made to not have the budget cuts affect the students too much. There are only a few changes that affect us directly, such as the $10 locker fee. When I first found out about having to pay for lockers, I was shocked and slightly upset, but when Glonchak told me that the locker fee is to help fund the ASB (Associated Student Body), which pays for the school dances and assemblies, I didn’t feel bitter anymore. I realized paying the fee is like paying myself because the money is used for me and the other students anyway.
     Also, Whitney has been raising money and making plans to build our own auditorium because whenever we have school plays, we have them at auditoriums at other schools. I am worried that I may not be able to see it before I graduate because Glonchak said that with the budget cuts, the process of building an auditorium is slowing down, but it is still in the works. The budget cuts have caused my school to make some changes, but Whitney doesn’t feel different from last year.
Emily He, 15, Whitney HS (Cerritos)

My favorite English teacher was laid off because she had been working at my school for only a few years compared to the other English teachers, who had at least seven years of experience. I learned a lot from her. I’ve always had a problem with using the same words in my writing and she taught me how to expand my writing and be more descriptive. She was my favorite because she made the class fun. We would watch her (and my) favorite Lord of the Rings series or order pizza and have a party for the class. Going to her class was always exciting! She taught freshmen through juniors and since I’m a senior, I wasn’t going to have her this year. But I’m still upset because it’s the principle that counts. My teacher shouldn’t have been laid off; it should have been someone else instead. It doesn’t matter that she had been teaching for only a few years, she was the best! The principal made a mistake.
Charmaine Peggese, 16, Cerritos HS

The teachers who were given pink slips last spring, such as almost all the art and computer teachers, were still at school on the first day. I thought maybe they were only picking up their stuff until I saw on my schedule that I had photography. I thought, “It might be a mistake on my schedule,” since my counselor had told me last spring that there wouldn’t be dance or photography. I went to the photography class and my teacher (who got pink slipped) told me that they were able to hire him back but he had to take a 3 percent pay cut.
Luisa Mendoza, 15, Lynwood HS

The budget cuts this year have definitely affected my school for the worse. The biggest change is the larger class sizes. All my classes are full this year. There are 60 students in my PE class! Last year, there were about 30 students in my PE class. Also, I was denied when I wanted move from period 4 study hall to English honors. My counselor said the English class was full, so unfortunately, I couldn’t switch so I had to stay in period 7 English honors. 
    AVID, a class that helps students prepare for college, was also cut which angered a lot of students and parents. While I was never in the class, many of my friends were, and they were disappointed when AVID was cut.
Freddy Tsao, 15, South Pasadena HS

Every year, my school proposes to make the best of the poor economic conditions. From my freshman to junior year, the school did this by encouraging students and teachers to use less paper and hold more fundraisers because the school could not provide as many resources as it previously could. So this year, when my calculus teacher told us that we would have to print everything from home instead of using the school printer, I wasn’t surprised. However, as senior year is just beginning, I have noticed some new changes at my high school.

     Last year, the Associated Student Body (ASB) tried to help students pay for winter formal tickets by holding a fundraiser, in which a certain amount of the money made by each student would fund the student’s ticket. This year, however, the school decided to cancel the dance altogether. I was disappointed because it’s my senior year. Although the school will still hold other dances, like homecoming and prom, I was looking forward to winter formal.
    Another change is that many of the school organizations are hanging by a thread. For many years, the school funded our mock trial team’s expenses, mostly transportation to and from competitions. Because of the budget cuts, our adviser wasn’t sure that the school would be able to support the team anymore. As a member of mock trial, I was shocked that it might be cancelled. However, the administration decided to support mock trial. Although we were lucky to keep our team, I know that mock trial, along with other activities, needs to be careful. The team needs to work harder than ever to prove that mock trial is an important contribution to our school.
Allison Ko, 17, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)

My trigonometry teacher said that there were eight custodians last year, but now there are three. So now during lunch and nutrition all the buildings must be closed so no trash has to be picked up. Also, teachers must keep their classrooms clean so the custodians will only have to clean the outside and around the school.
Taylor Moore, 15, Westchester HS

In the magnet program, AP classes like English and art history usually have a little more than 20 people, but this year they have more than 40. People have to sit in extra chairs without desks. My teachers are trying to convince people not to take their classes instead of encouraging them to sign up. We also have about 300 more students and large parts of the school are closed off because of construction projects, which makes it almost impossible to get from class to class.
Sam Landsberg, 16, Hamilton HS

At my school, our film teacher was laid off, so there’s no more film department. I was very excited to take another film class this year because I’d really enjoyed it last year. We got to make our own films, and I got to show my first movie to my classmates at our student film festival. Now the cameras, computers and other equipment are locked in the media center, unused.
    Our school has been divided into three tracks for years because of overcrowding, so at any one time, two tracks of students are at school and one is always off. Now, we only have two academic counselors per track, instead of three like we did last year. There are about 1,300 students per track. We didn’t receive much individual attention before, but now I think it might be worse for the freshmen because the counselors will be even more stretched and will have less time to help them choose classes.
    I was expecting class sizes to be bigger this year because I heard about 20 teachers had been laid off last year, but when I got to school, classes were about the same size. My economics teacher told me that class sizes would have been a lot bigger this year, but the school used the federal stimulus money to hire back teachers who had been laid off. The school still isn’t sure if it will be able to keep those teachers next year, though, because they might not have the money.
Lia Dun, 16, Marshall HS

I am not able to study as much as other schools for Academic Decathlon because my school won’t dedicate a class to it this year. Why should my Academic Decathlon team be put at a disadvantage? After many meetings with the class coordinator at my school, the final decision was that Academic Decathlon wouldn’t be a class and my teacher wouldn’t get paid for teaching it. Thankfully, I have a considerate Academic Decathlon coach who is willing to sacrifice her personal time after school so my team can succeed.
Dane Wells, 16, University HS

The budget cuts are starting to affect Fairfax High School. Classes are so overcrowded that my friends have to sit on the floor. One of my friends actually brought a chair from home to sit on. Many custodians have been fired, so the main building has been locked up before school, during nutrition and lunch. This makes it hard for me and my girlfriend, who I share a locker with, to get our books for our classes. I understand why they’re closing it, but students should be allowed to put books in their lockers and not have to carry heavy books for most, if not all, of their classes. I know we are in a recession, but I hope things get better.
Aaron Sayago, 18, Fairfax HS

There have been a lot of changes at my school since last year. We’re a private school, but we’ve still been affected by the economy. We lost about 150 students, although 80 new students enrolled. Teachers who have worked at my school for over a decade didn’t have their contracts renewed. I’d say we lost 20 staff members, including 10 teachers.
    Also, we’ve gone paperless. The two-week schedules, which outline our class plans and assignments, are no longer handed out to students. They’re available on the school website. However students still have to print the assignments at home and hand them in.
Serli Polatoglu, 16, AGBU-MDS (Canoga Park)

This year, the honors geometry class has around 44 people. My teacher said that the school is trying to find another teacher who could teach a second honors geometry class. But right now, my class is still big. I sit in the back of the room at a long table that has computers on it and I face the back of the classroom. And on Friday, Sept. 11, three more people were added to the class and they got squished into the corner of the table I sit at.
    On the first day of school, my Chinese teacher announced that we may not have workbooks because of the budget cuts. So she asked each student to donate $20 to $30. About a week later we got workbooks, but they’re not new. Inside there are red marks and pages are bent. When I’m working on an exercise in the workbook, I get distracted by the marks from a previous student. My mom and her brother, since they are Sonora alumni, are willing to donate, but they haven’t yet.
Sydney Chou, 13, Sonora HS (La Habra)