The article below originally appeared in The San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal Max Peterson, left, the son of a part-time teacher at the College of San Mateo, and part-time English teacher Rebecca Webb light candles for a vigil supporting education held on campus last night.

Heather Murtagh/Daily Journal Max Peterson, left, the son of a part-time teacher at the College of San Mateo, and part-time English teacher Rebecca Webb light candles for a vigil supporting education held on campus last night.

College of San Mateo student Jeanine Robertson got down on the ground to correctly place tealights shining within clear plastic cups to create one letter in a glowing sign from students, staff and community: “Yes We Can.”

Yes we can overcome cuts, but only together, was the message Associated Students Financial Director Alex Quintana shared with about 100 people who participated in a candlelight vigil in support of education held at the college last night.

The lack of funds for education has become a hot topic on the three local community college campuses, all of which face cuts in the coming school year. Those cuts can mean many losses — from programs and teachers to limited space for students. This led participants of last night’s event to call for more: More working together to improve the public education system for all.

“When we’re spending more money to lock people up than we’re spending to open the doors to let people in, it’s a shame,” said Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who previously attended CSM.

His sentiment was not alone. Proposed cuts will alter the offerings of local colleges which affects community opportunities. One way to lessen such impacts would be a local tax dedicated to the three San Mateo County community colleges, which Trustee Richard Holober suggested to the crowd.

With support like this, he said, such a tax could have a chance at passing.

Locally, losses are expected for a combination of reasons, including the anticipation of $5.5 million of federal stimulus money that never materialized for the San Mateo County Community College District. That money was budgeted as deficit spending rather than making mid-year cuts. This reduction will be in addition to an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent in cuts needed for the coming school year, district CFO Kathy Blackwood said previously.

The College of San Mateo is looking at going from $28.3 million last year to $22.3 million in the 2010-11 school year.

Cuts will not go into effect until next fall, but a list of potential cuts for the College of San Mateo — including aeronautics, American Sign Language, anthropology, architecture, building inspection, counselor arts and science, education, French, geography, German, human services, humanities, Italian, Japanese, meteorology, military science, paleontology, perioperative nursing, real estate and the alcohol and other drugs program — is already out.

CSM President Michael Claire explained hiatus rather than elimination better describes the potential outcome for programs under discussion.

The list was a starting point for an ongoing conversation between the administration, students, teachers and faculty. Through such talks, Claire noted it is clear the faculty wishes to maintain the broadest curriculum offerings possible.

For Claire, it’s the students who have stood out in this process.

“Students are impacted more than everyone else. They’re looking to at what’s going on at the UCs and CSUs. They’re asking what they can do to help on the campus. That’s the sense I get. They’re responding productively,” he said.

English teacher Rebecca Webb lit candles prior to the vigil’s start explaining she had many reasons to attend.

“They can’t take any more. It’s just too much. They need to put money into education,” she said.

Max Peterson, a high school senior, attended last night because his mother is a part-time teacher. He hopes to attend a UC next fall, but noted cuts even to the community colleges will affect those opportunities. For example, he and his mom will be able to afford less if fewer hours are available for her to work.

Full-time student Mike Cardona stumbled onto the activities. Cardona, who studies administration of justice and political science, has already felt the effects of budget cuts. He takes advantage of student services like financial aid. Cardona previously received book vouchers, but no longer. He’s hearing rumors of other colleges shutting down summer programs. If it occurs, Cardona is fearful he will not be able to take the classes he needs to transfer on schedule due to the increased number of students.

Speech professor Kate Motoyama addressed the crowd noting her success was due to a great public education system.

“We need to move public policy where education is once again affordable to all,” she said, adding, “There needs to be open access to public education.”

Doing so needs to be a group effort, said Danita Scott-Taylor, director of student support services. Such a fight needs to be done not with our personal or our children’s best interest at heart, she said.

“We need an institution that serves us all,” Scott-Taylor said.

Those in attendance were given the option to fill out a postcard which Hill will take to Sacramento. Three computers also stood open allowing people to e-mail concerns directly to the Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Business student Justin Hoffman took the time to do just that.

“It’s going to be our generation that is faced with all the problems this generation causes,” he said. “We are going to have to change the world. At least give us the opportunity to change the world and give us the opportunity of education.”