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Central Falls students protest funding cuts



Students, parents, teachers and community leaders gathered outside Central Falls High School on Wednesday to protest the lack of funding in the Rhode Island 2020 Budget for the Central Falls School District. Due to looming bankruptcy, the State of Rhode Island took over the funding of Central Falls schools in 1991.

This year, with enrollment increasing by 366 students, the City of Central Falls asked for additional funding. The House of Representatives demurred, giving the City’s school system about half the amount they requested. This will necessitate employment cuts and larger class sizes.

The Central Falls School District’s Board of Trustees voted to reject the budget.

See: Central Falls school board rejects state’s proposed budget by Linda Borg in the Providence Journal

Stephanie Gonzalez

As I got to the rally, Stephanie Gonzalez, a board of trustees member, was speaking. “We are tired of the [false] rhetoric,” said Gonzalez. “Central Falls gets too much money. Central Falls gets too much money from the state. We know, and we should not take that out on our kids.

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“A lot of us students have so much potential. A lot of us wants to be artists,” said student Anthony Majia, “A lot of us wants to be in a studio. A lot of us have a lot of dreams… After budget cuts it’s going to get to the point [where] I wouldn’t be surprised [by cuts to] our water supply, because that’s what they’re doing nowadays…”

Mayra Pujols delivered her message in Spanish:

“I want to start to making it clear that my priority and many of our priorities will always be making sure that our kids receive the best education and continue to be supportive to other families making sure we provide resources and that we advocate for them all the time,” said Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera. “Second, I want to be clear that I’m not here to point any fingers. I’m here in hopes of getting a meeting scheduled between all of the stakeholders to try to find a solution to this. So between RIDE, which is the Department of Education, between the Mayor, the superintendent, the Board of Trustees – for all of us to get together and to fill the gap of miscommunication and have answers for our community.

“I truly believe that we are all here for the best interest of our kids, but it’s very important that we are all on the same page and are not misguided with information,” continued Rivera. “We are opening a door that many have been afraid to open, creating a momentum that hopefully will be for the best interest of our kids.

“The City of Central Falls has provided resources to our kids year after year, making sure we fill in some of those gaps, like after school programs or summer programs, but it’s not enough: Our kids deserve better.

“Growing up in Central Falls and graduating from this high school, I know firsthand, as well as many of you, what we want for a need for our kids: a better education, more resources access to better programs, a more concentrated IEP program, less students per classroom so that our teachers and students are able to focus and get individualized attention, among many other things. We are going through challenging times right now. There’s no time to point fingers,” concluded Rivera. “Let’s work together and find solutions for our kids.”

“Us students from Central Falls schools we’re more than capable to do what the State wants us to do, but how are we able to do that if your guys cut off funding from us?” asked high school student Janelie Ordonez. “We come from a city where we struggle financially so cutting funding from student education isn’t going to improve test grades or motivate us.”

“If we want to have more after-school programs, more activity for kids, smaller classes so each individual to get the education that they deserve here in Central Falls,” said student Selmira Monteiro. “Every kid should be in a small classroom so they can educate themself. Now teachers are going be fired, not going to have their jobs. Parents are going to be worried that their kids are not going to get the education that they deserve. We’re all going to suffer in so many different ways because they don’t want to give us the funding that we deserve in Central Falls. We deserve more than they give us. We got to speak up, to show them that we actually care about our school education and we want to do best for Central Falls High School and every other school in Central Falls.”

“It saddens me to speak today about dreams deferred, ignored and squandered. Not only has the situation for CF students not improved for them, but for my perspective, the conditions have worsened,” said Central Falls High School science teacher David Upegui. “Why should we accept decrepit school buildings with limited bathrooms and broken water fountains, no music classes, no band, no chorus, an athletic field that has been condemned, large class sizes and the hyper segregated student body created by some charter schools that exclude the children with the greatest needs?

David Upegui

“For some people, this does not appear to be a problem: It is just survival of the fittest,” continued Upegui. “But herein lies an error: We cannot afford to throw away the gifts of all of our children because the universe has been liberal with an expression of talents. In other words, the children of Central Falls can be cultivated to express the greatness that is already in their blood. In these decaying classrooms sit the next great physicist, the next religious healer, the next stern litigator, the next powerful speaker, the next encouraging teacher, the next mesmerizing actress, the next moral leader – but we need to tend to these students.

“We must help to develop them so they can reach their potential. I am here speaking because somebody did that for me 26 years ago and so I am fighting for all of my students: The past and present and the future. We must do better by them and provide them with every opportunity to find success. The fact that our students have always gotten less is not new and neither is their resilience,” concluded Upegui. “Please fund us appropriately so now we can make all of Rhode Island better.”

Wrap up from Stephanie Gonzalez:

Anthony Majia
Janelie Ordonez
Selmira Monteiro

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.