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Hundreds protest cuts to education during Strip rally


Mona Shield Payne/Special to the Sun

UNLV alum Frank Salvo, 34, protests education budget cuts in Nevada during a rally Sunday, March 6, in front of the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip.

Updated Sunday, March 6, 2011 | 8:50 p.m.

Rally Against Budget Cuts

Protesters make their way along Las Vegas Boulevard during a protest against education budget cuts Sunday, March 6, in front of the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip. Launch slideshow »

A student-led rally started with a “eulogy” — somber messages from hundreds of protesters gathered Sunday on the Las Vegas Strip to oppose what they called Gov. Brian Sandoval’s death sentence for education in Nevada.

Their stories — filled with messages of anger alongside a resiliency to keep fighting — elicited loud chants of “save our schools,” a phrase emblazoned on black T-shirts many wore to the funeral-themed protest, which brought about 500 people to the Strip.

“We cannot even compete in our own country (in education),” lamented Colin Seale, a teacher and UNLV law student. “And they want to make cuts to that? I’m happy when I get a kid that’s at grade level.”

The attendees’ slogans on posters echoed the same sentiments: “Nevadans care about education! So should you, Mr. Sandoval,” “What happens in Vegas matters,” and “Budget cuts? Nevada bleeds.”

Sandoval’s proposed cuts to education include reducing the average per-student state support from $5,192 this fiscal year to $4,918 in each of the next two fiscal years. The Nevada System of Higher Education says there is a $163 million reduction from its current budget as recommended by the governor.

If the proposed cuts to higher education were made up only through tuition hikes, state education officials have said it would translate into a 73 percent tuition increase.

That point brought UNLV senior Lluvia Valenzuela, who carried a tombstone-shaped poster reading “R.I.P. access to education,” to the rally. Now a biology student, Valenzuela said she hopes to enroll in the university’s dental school after graduation.

“I just want tuition to stay the same,” she said. “They don’t think about the people.”

Others, like Jennifer Cavada, said she attended the rally for the sake of future generations.

“I’m here because I want my children to be educated enough to compete for jobs,” she said.

Her sons — elementary school students Gabriel and Joseph, and eighth-grader Anthony — toted signs reading “cuts hurt” and “honk 4 education,” the latter of which received a chorus of beeps from passing motorists on Las Vegas Boulevard.

More drivers joined the rally by honking as the brigade, billing itself as a funeral procession, marched more than a mile from near the Bellagio’s fountains to the Palms.

“Forty-eighth in the nation, we need education,” the crowd chanted while walking along Flamingo Road.

Assembled outside the Palms, the rally attendees took aim at the governor’s proposed cuts, calling education a right, not a privilege.

“We need to send a message to legislators and to Gov. Sandoval up in Carson City that we cannot sustain any more cuts,” said Lynn Comella, a UNLV professor in the women’s studies department. “Cuts are not the answer. We need more taxes.”

Laurie Lytel, a visiting professor at UNLV’s School of Social Work, said it’s painful for her to tell students she doesn’t know whether the program will exist if the proposed cuts gain approval in the Legislature.

“If people don’t get an education, they’re not going to be able to support themselves,” Lytel said.

Click to enlarge photo

Hand-in-hand, Melissa Marvin and Sam Shield, respectively a UNLV substitute teacher and UNLV student, march along Las Vegas Boulevard during a protest against education budget cuts Sunday, March 6, in front of the Bellagio on the Las Vegas Strip.

Dressed in a Day of the Dead-themed costume — complete with morbid face paint — Karoline Khamis was among the students who worried her program might be in jeopardy. The women’s studies major at UNLV said her job at the Women’s Center could also be on the chopping block.

“We’re going to have to absorb as many cuts this year as we have in six years,” she said.

Khamis said she was glad to see a large turnout for the rally.

“With so many students that have one or two jobs, it’s amazing this many people came out,” she said.

The pro-education rally evolved from an idea hatched by a group of students chatting the previous Sunday at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf near UNLV’s campus, said Alfonso Ayala, who graduated in May with a master’s degree in higher education.

The idea for a demonstration set in motion a week of organizing and spreading the word.

“The movement behind us is just phenomenal — from 10 students sitting at the Coffee Bean to this,” he said, surveying the chanting crowd outside the Palms.

Protesters plan to descend on Carson City on March 21 to deliver in person the same message, organizers said.

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