An East San Jose classroom reaching nearly 90 degrees—and a deafening silence from administrators to keep it in working order—is the latest example of underinvestment and inequities in one of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
A classroom at Renaissance Academy at Fischer Middle School, located at 1720 Hopkins Drive in San Jose, became unbearable this past school year due to faulty air conditioning. After asking school leaders to fix it to no avail, teacher Luvia Solis was forced to take her sixth to eighth grade students, their desks and chairs outside amid a heat wave. The problem persisted despite the teacher raising the issue with the principal and maintenance workers’ attempts to fix the cool air.
“I told my principal I cannot teach,” Solis previously told San José Spotlight. “When it gets super hot I get dizzy. I can’t concentrate and the students can’t concentrate. They’re in a daze and falling asleep.”
Top school officials, including Alum Rock Union School District Superintendent Hilaria Bauer, said the school district has aging air conditioning systems that malfunction sporadically and aren’t designed to work with windows and doors open.
But East San Jose leaders say this is nothing new—and the city’s poorest neighborhoods and communities of color are often neglected and left behind.
‘The short end of the stick’
Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of Latina Coalition Silicon Valley, said investment has historically been lacking in facilities on the East Side. She’s not surprised to see a teacher’s pleas for help fall on deaf ears.
“They kind of get the short end of the stick when it comes to infrastructure and upkeep investments for a lot of this community,” she told San José Spotlight, adding an equity lens must be brought to the city budget when it comes to District 5, which is home to East San Jose.
The district’s councilmember, Magdalena Carrasco, could not be reached for comment. Carrasco terms out of office this December and two longtime east side leaders—Nora Campos and Peter Ortiz—will face off in November to replace her. Campos formerly represented the district.
Chavez-Lopez is encouraged the San Jose City Council discussed equity investment at its budget meeting Tuesday. That means city leaders are looking to allocate more funding to East San Jose and its neighborhoods affected by overcrowded housing and economic instability. It’s all interconnected, she said; the city budget, tax revenue, housing and school budgets.
As the lack of affordable housing pushes out East San Jose families, the schools lose funding from the state, resulting in being underfunded. Chavez-Lopez remembers when her school library closed at Evergreen Valley High School. It was her first realization that not all schools are funded equally, and it wouldn’t have happened in a more affluent school district, she said.
“I just saw the inequities,” she said. “We weren’t getting the support we needed. It felt like everything was on a shoestring budget, I don’t know that things have changed all that much. It’s always a struggle with balancing the budget. They always have to make tough decisions.”
Corina Herrera-Loera, a trustee with Alum Rock Union School District, is frustrated that East San Jose residents still must fight for their share of public resources.
“How much more advocacy do we need when we see the realities that we deal with over and over on the East Side?” she said. “How many more times do we need to call to advocate for funding for a community?”
Kathleen King, CEO of Healthier Kids Foundation, said families in East San Jose have gone through turmoil through the pandemic, with children losing parents and health appointments being missed because a family member had COVID-19. Her organization provides health and dental screenings to low-income students across Santa Clara County.
Universally screening fifth graders in East San Jose for mental health services revealed children are under a lot of stress and feel unsafe, she said.
Andres Quintero, board president of Alum Rock Union School District, said there are limits to what taxpayers in East San Jose can afford. Funding for the school district comes from the state as local property taxes don’t cover operating expenses.
Santa Clara County and local nonprofits bring in services and resources to try to bridge the gap in meeting student needs.
“We’ve been at a disadvantage (compared with) the districts on the western side of the valley,” he said. “Clearly the needs we have here are significant and our families aren’t able to provide… so it still falls on us to support our students the best we can with the resources we do have.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]