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Enough with deciding which beloved programs to spare and which to cut. Enough with squabbling over dollars. And enough with accepting that slashing schools is inevitable.

That was the message last night at the second forum that San Diego Unified has held on its budget crisis, this time at San Diego High. It is one in a series of school meetings to powwow over a deficit estimated between $147 million and $203 million next school year.

Unlike the first forum in Tierrasanta, where parents talked about specific cuts, this discussion, hosted by school board member Richard Barrera, quickly turned into a war room for figuring out how parents and school staff could battle the state.

“We don’t have to stand for this … I don’t want to worry about what we should cut. Let’s fight it!” said Rafael Ocampo, a counselor at Roosevelt Middle. He pointed out that parents could start writing their legislators, adding, “We live in a society where we vote for American Idol and we call five times!”

His words echoed the school board resolution earlier this week, which urged the state to find other ways to balance its budget, such as boosting revenues through taxes. While San Diego Unified has been criticized for taking that tack — a Union-Tribune editorial slammed it as “betraying students” — it was roundly cheered by forum attendees.

The question is whether they can propel that anger and passion into change in Sacramento. Interim Superintendent Bill Kowba said one key problem is that education lacks a champion in the legislature right now, as Republicans and Democrats huddle to protect other programs.

“We do need to be unified,” Barrera said. “And we need to be strong.”

— EMILY ALPERT

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