Stories From Spring 2011
Activists gathered in Sacramento Monday as part of a weeklong demonstration against budget cuts to schools. Sixty-five protesters were arrested for staging an after-hours sit-in at the state capitol. Teachers unions are asking lawmakers to extend taxes to support schools, and they’ve scheduled another sit-in for Friday.
As elected officials sort out California’s budget, with further cuts to education expected, public school districts are preparing to lay off teachers. State law says they have to do it in a certain order. You might have heard it before: “last-hired, first-fired.”
In March, 20,000 teachers across the state received notices warning them that they might lose their jobs. In Oakland alone, more than 500 teachers got those notices. And even though the district followed the “last-hired, first-fired” requirement, more than half the staff members at 26 schools were told they might lose their jobs. Reporter Lillian Mongeau visited a school that could lose almost every single faculty member: Futures Elementary in East Oakland.
One of the worst genocides of the 20th century happened in Cambodia, in the 1970s. The extremist Khmer Rouge party, led by Pol Pot tried to create a rural farming society, evacuating people from their homes and jobs in urban areas to the country, where many were killed by the government, starved, or were worked to death.
KENNETH QUINN: The Khmer Rouge had a plan, and it was to remove all of these impediments so that then what is left is malleable group of peasant-citizens and others who were not in these classes, could be transformed into this new socialist Khmer Rouge communist person.
That was former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia, Kenneth Quinn. Almost overnight, high schools were converted into prisons and the city’s teachers, engineers, and lawyers were locked up in them. Hospitals were emptied out and shut down, the nurses and doctors killed for being intellectuals, and the patients told they had to figure out how to survive without medicine. A fifth of Cambodia’s population died in what became known as the Killing Fields.
QUINN: They did that by uprooting everybody, separate families, take the children away, turn the children against the parents, destroy religion. Break down every stricture of society because then you have stripped away everything that in the view of the Khmer Rouge was corrupt and imposed from the West.
Many of the survivors became refugees and over one hundred thousand of them came to resettle in America. Now, they have a chance to seek justice. Reporter Becky Palmstrom has that story.
In California, many of the farm workers who harvest the state’s crops are undocumented. Their lack of legal status often means they don’t have health care, even though they work in hazardous conditions that put them at increased risk for pesticide exposure, skin diseases, and even diabetes. So across the state, a network of grass-roots healthcare groups are finding innovative ways to reach those farm workers. Reporter Bridget Huber recently visited a mobile clinic serving agricultural workers on the Central Coast and brings us this story.
There’s some good news in the latest figures from the Labor Department – they show that jobless claims have gone down. But the bad news is that analysts say this decrease isn’t quite enough to show a healthy job market just yet. The national unemployment rate is at 9.2%, and in California, it’s at 12.3%. So, with so many people still looking for work, it’s hard to imagine that by 2018, we might have a labor shortage. That’s because the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be a million new jobs by then, but experts say there won’t be enough people trained and ready to fill those positions.
What are the fastest growing jobs? Most of them are in – surprise, surprise – the sciences. Bay Area schools are scrambling to add the science, math, and engineering courses that will keep their students competitive, and they aren’t waiting for the funding to trickle down. Richmond High School got a little corporate help to make a brand new engineering lab. Reporter Lillian Mongeau takes us there.
Seventy-five thousand refugees moved to the U.S. in 2009, many settling here in the Bay to make a new life in America. But, before they arrive, here many lived in refugee camps for years. Some refugees spend their entire life in camps that were meant to be temporary. Reporter Becky Palmstrom visited one such refugee camp in northern Kenya, and she’s been bringing us stories from the crowded makeshift community – at least 50,000 people live in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. That’s where Palmstrom met a young woman from Ethiopia, named Sadia Happi. Happi has been in the camp for almost three years now, and she’s only 19 years old, but she’s already become a community leader among the Oromo – a tribal group from Ethiopia. Here’s her story.
In Oakland, there are many strategies at play in the struggle to stem violent crime, which has actually decreased in recent years, though it’s still higher than in most cities of its size. Some credit the change to Measure Y Street Teams, who spend nights walking in Oakland’s most dangerous neighborhoods, looking for people who need help. So far, they’ve been so successful that 20 new members have just joined the team.
Reporter Alexa Vaughn joined them one of their nightly rounds, which started on the Border Brothers’ gang turf at 98th and Bancroft.
When Jean Quan began campaigning to be the mayor of Oakland, she promised to clean up Oakland’s neighborhoods and improve the city’s schools. Quan’s win surprised those who expected front-runner Don Perata to sweep to victory. But when the new, ranked-choice voting system took second choices into account, Quan pulled ahead.
Since Quan took office in January, Governor Jerry Brown has proposed millions in funding cuts to city’s redevelopment funds. Ten people have been murdered in Oakland, not counting the three killed in officer-involved shootings. And the schools are looking at more teacher lay-offs and deeper cuts than they have for years.
These are big roadblocks for the new mayor, but so far they haven’t slowed her down. Reporter Lillian Mongeau spent time with Quan during her first weeks on the job to see what it’s like to be Oakland’s new multi-tasker-in-chief.
The city of Oakland has about 5,000 properties in foreclosure. Every one has a story.
ROSA FERNANDEZ: I used to come home, cook dinner, go to my room, lock my door, and I used to cry. Every night, every night.
But many of the city’s other residents can’t afford a home, even with help. Oakland’s Housing Authority estimates that half of the city’s residents could qualify for housing aid programs like Section 8. That’s right. Half the residents of Oakland.
ERIC JOHNSON: There’s so many families that would be eligible, and in the crisis we’re going through more people have become eligible.
Recently, Oakland’s Housing Authority opened the waitlist for a special type of Section 8 vouchers for the first time in five years. These coveted vouchers allow renters to find apartments in the private market. Tenants put 30% of their income toward rent, and the Housing Authority makes up the difference using federal funds.
More than 55,000 people applied for just 10,000 vouchers. KALW Bridget Huber spoke with people in Oakland hoping to be one of those selected in the affordable housing lottery-style selection process.
Last month, KALW News brought you stories from Bay Area Sudanese who hope that the country would split into north and south. Some expats drove 12 hours to vote in the historic referendum in January. And the results are in: a reported 99% of people in Southern Sudan voted for separation and the creation of a new country.
Come July, Southern Sudan is set to become the newest country in the world. The journey to independence has not been easy. After decades of war between north and south, a peace treaty finally gave South Sudan a chance to vote for independence. Becky Palmstrom went to Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya, where thousands of Southern Sudanese refugees have spent decades living in exile, waiting to return. There the referendum is literally an answer to their prayers.
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