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Members of Sacramento’s Latino community gathered Thursday night to ask questions and voice concerns at the first of Mayor Kevin Johnson’s Town Hall meetings for his 2012 campaign. Education and lack of funding for city public schools took top priority in the discussions.
“There is nothing more important than our public education system, and we must do a better job with our schools,” said Mayor Johnson.
Approximately 150 people attended the Town Hall at La Familia Counseling Center in North Franklin. Seats filled quickly and dozens of concerned community members stood in the entryway and aisles. Affordable access to health care, racial profiling by police, support and funding for the arts and concerns about community safety were also discussed.
(Image by: Magy Hoyer)
Johnson also addressed the student achievement gap issue: of 1,000 Hispanic and Latino students in Sacramento, roughly 60 percent will graduate from high school on time, and only 13 percent will go on to college.
The mayor suggested a grading system that would allow parents to hold schools accountable, and charter schools as an alternative to sub-par public education.
Sandra Guzman, a counselor for the Puente Project at Sacramento City College, asked whether it were true that the charter schools supported by the mayor will not include ESL and ELL (English Language Learning) in the curriculum.
“They will and they should,” Johnson said.
The Town Hall was the first Latino-specific event to be hosted by the mayor since he took office four years ago.
The mayor’s website promoted the event as a “Listening Session”, and Johnson announced in his opening comments that his No. 1 goal for the evening was to hear from anyone in the audience who wished to stand up and speak.
The meeting was scheduled from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m., but one hour proved too short a time. Lengthy introductions and the need to translate dialogue between English and Spanish limited the number of questions that were addressed.
Roberto Lopez, a program coordinator at La Raza Galeria Posada in Midtown, barely had an opportunity to voice his concern about the lack of funding for Latinos in the arts sector.
The gallery, which has been operating in Sacramento for nearly 40 years, is on the verge of closing due to inadequate support. Lopez attended to ask Mayor Johnson how he intends to support La Raza Galeria Posada and empower artists in the Latino community.
According to the mayor’s campaign manager Steven Maviglio, Johnson kept his campaign promises from 2008, but will not rest on his laurels in next year’s election. The Town Hall meetings will play an important role in creating a blueprint for 2012.
"When most politicians go out, they speak to the public and not the other way around. We want citizens to know that their voices will be heard," said Maviglio Wednesday.
Vidal Gonzalez, who works as a youth specialist at La Familia Counseling Center, believes that Latinos in Sacramento are at more of a disadvantage today than they were 10 years ago. This is surprising in light of the fact that the Latino population has risen significantly.
“We know that we’re 27 percent of the population,” Gonzalez said. “Do we have to wait for the next census for them to notice it?”
He said he hopes to see strong Latino candidates running for City Council in the near future, and maintains that leadership is going to have to come from within the community itself.
Jenny Padierna Cortes, an eighth grader at the Language Academy of Sacramento, said she left the meeting happy. Following her question about vacant lots in her Oak Park neighborhood, Mayor Johnson invited her to the microphone and promised to pay her application fee to Sacramento State College, where she hopes to study writing.
(Image by: Magy Hoyer)
The meeting closed on a high-energy note, and the mayor announced his intention to meet with the Latino community again in January or February to continue the dialogue.
The next Town Hall meeting will be a joint effort with the Sierra Curtis Park Neighborhood Association. Visit Mayor Johnson’s campaign website for more information.