Photo by Scott Buschman
Several hundred school employees, parents, students and community members came to stand up for public schools in front of the state Capitol on Pink Friday — which will go down in history as the day more than 27,000 school employees received pink slips. They came to deliver a strong message to legislators: Enough is enough — it's time to invest in public schools and give students in California the education they deserve.
Attendees wore pink shirts, hats, boas and even the occasional "slip" instead of a skirt. Some had pink paper pinned to their backs with the message "I've Been Pink-slipped." Speech and language pathologist Monica Harvey brought her dogs festooned in pink scarves. But despite the festive attire of attendees, the mood was a somber one. Supporters were sad over the prospects of losing jobs they love, colleagues they value and a quality education for their students.
"More than 27,000 teachers are expected to receive pink slips by the end of today," CTA President David A. Sanchez told the crowd. "This is a difficult economy, and many people are losing their jobs and homes. We are no different. But when teachers lose their jobs, it's the students that suffer. Laying off teachers means cutting entire programs like art, music and PE. So we are fighting back and wearing pink and standing up for schools. California already ranks 47th in the nation in education spending, which is absolutely pitiful for the eighth-largest economy in the world. This race to the bottom has to stop now."
"Our work is just beginning," Sacramento City Teachers Association President Linda Tuttle added. "We need to ensure that as many of you as possible are in your jobs in September doing what you do best — educating our kids. Your association leaders will work tirelessly to make sure this happens and to make sure that education is fully funded. And we're calling on all of you to work for initiatives on the May ballot to make sure that happens."
"Many lawmakers have forgotten valuable lessons they learned in school," said David Berry, president of Twin Rivers United Educators, about the budget gridlock experienced in Sacramento last month, "such as how to get along with each other and how to plan for the future."
"Our biggest concern is for students and an entire generation that will be affected by $11 billion in cuts," said Berry.
Kari Scow, a self-described "full-time parent volunteer," had planned her own Pink Friday parent protest before learning another was planned by CTA. She decided to join forces with teachers, and urged the crowd to fight back.
"Art and music have been eliminated. What else can they cut from our schools? They need to remember these students are our future. This is not what I want for my children or anybody else's children. The parents in California need to stand up right now and begin fighting for our children. It's time to stand up for our schools right now."
Stephanie Carslake, a first-year teacher at Dry Creek Elementary School who teaches Scow's daughter BreAnna, showed up for the rally after being handed her walking papers earlier that day. "It's deflating," she said. "I love what I do. I love the kids. And to think I may not see them next year is awful."
Carslake, a member of Twin Rivers United Educators, is one of eight teachers let go out of a staff of 21 at her site. She plans to start looking for another job as soon as possible. Her students don't know she won't be returning next year, and she doesn't want to tell them for fear that they will be traumatized.
Elk Grove Education Association member Ron Eggert, a social studies teacher from Calvine High School, came to the Pink Friday event at the Capitol even though he had not received a pink slip himself.
"I came to support other teachers and my students, who are concerned about being shortchanged," he said. "The importance of our educational system is to make sure our students get a good education, and that is being jeopardized by legislative inaction. Pink Friday was a great activity, but we need very strongly to continue to make our voices heard in fighting for education rights."
Randi Blake was pink-slipped after 14 years in Sacramento City Unified working as a school nurse for medically fragile students. She was one of 27 nurses in the district whose job was eliminated, along with psychologists, social workers, counselors and numerous teachers.
"I'm here to protest," she said. "All I can do now is protest. I hope something happens that will improve this situation. Our children need credentialed, qualified school nurses at their sites to monitor their care. We are in a low socioeconomic area, and in this economic downturn, families are losing insurance and children are not getting the medical care they need. Sometimes school nurses are in the first line of helping students."
Bob Bergstren, president of a company in Rancho Cordova, came in support of his daughter, a second-year teacher who received a pink slip. He carried a sign with a large broom, calling for sweeping changes in the way we fund education.
"Now they are going to put 40 kids in a class," he said. "How will students get the help they need? How will they get jobs once they graduate? I'm the guy who hires people for jobs and I'm wondering about that."
Stacy Bostrom, president of Associated Teachers of Pixley, traveled four hours to attend the rally. Fifty percent of the teachers at her site received pink slips, and most were pulled out of class by the principal to be informed of the dismal news. Students knew what was happening, and some of the younger ones cried most of the day.
"What has happened has been a real blow for us," she said. "And there will be 40 students in a class next year if they don't hire some people back."
A large contingent of Student CTA members were also on hand. While still committed to becoming teachers, some wondered whether they would find job opportunities in California.
"For students, it's a double whammy," said Caroline Sweet of CSU Sacramento. "College tuition is going up, and there is less financial aid. The job market is not good. I may be substitute-teaching a lot longer than I planned."
"It definitely makes us think more about how difficult it will be to find a job when we are competing against those that have been teaching already," said fellow student Mandy Hopper.
Sheri Haselhuhn wore an enormous pink fuzzy hat and a worried expression beneath it. The Sacramento City Teachers Association member and special education teacher did not know if she had received a layoff notice yet, because she had not gone home after school to check her mailbox. Instead, she came directly to the rally.
"I wanted to be here to support everyone — regardless of whether I got one or not," she said. "It's important that I be here."
Join other members, parents and students at www.standupforschools.org to continue to organize to save our schools and colleges from deeper budget cuts.
Greater Los Angeles Area
In the Los Angeles area, the day started with an early morning news conference by United Teachers Los Angeles and several morning protests in places like Montebello and Alhambra. Los Angeles Unified had voted earlier in the week to issue thousands of layoff notices. UTLA president A.J. Duffy told the press, "These layoffs will have devastating consequences on L.A. schools."
In Pomona, over a thousand people attended an afternoon rally in protest of the more than 600 layoff notices issued by that district. CTA Vice President Dean Vogel criticized the school district for taking a sledge hammer to its teaching ranks and urged the community to continue to unite behind teachers and behind public education.
"We all have to speak with one voice," said Vogel. "And that voice is here."
Associated Pomona Teachers President Morgan Brown addressed the crowd in both English and Spanish, and blamed lawmakers for failing to have the best interest of students as a priority. CTA members from surrounding chapters including Chino, Ontario and El Monte came to show support and to protest cuts in their own districts.
CTA members from Hawthorne, Lennox, El Segundo and Lawndale gathered around a busy South Bay intersection and protested during the traffic-congested afternoon drive, drawing honks of support from passersby.
Simi Valley Educators Association took out an ad in the local paper promoting their protest and spent the afternoon rallying against cuts and layoffs at a busy intersection. Nearby chapters in Las Virgenes and Thousand Oaks rallied and held blood drives symbolizing all that was being taken from students, teachers and schools. Ventura members also protested at a busy intersection.
In the High Desert community of Victorville, more than 150 pink-clad members of a Cross County Coalition showed up to protest the nearly 300 layoff notices issued in the Victor Valley area. Those present were concerned not only about the impact on students, but about the potential harsh impact on the local economy. The Hesperia Unified School District had issued the majority of the area layoffs, and Vista Verde Elementary issued pink slips to more than half its teaching staff.
The central coast, normally one of California's greener regions, was unabashedly pink. Hundreds of Santa Maria protesters rallied and marched from a local high school while passing motorists signaled support. Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles members also rallied, while hundreds of area students walked out in support.
"It was amazing!" exclaimed Kristen Fisher, president of the Anaheim Elementary Education Association (AEEA), about the Pink Friday event in her district.
"AEEA members — joined by parents and other school district stakeholders — lined sidewalks before school, distributing informational leaflets," said Fisher. "The parents were incredible, with many of them continuing after the teachers had to go to their teaching responsibilities. Honking horns could be heard well into the morning. Some parents and teachers went back out during lunch, and efforts continued at many schools until 6 p.m., after classes were dismissed."
From Orange County in the northwest to Imperial County in the southeast, from Riverside and San Bernardino counties in the northeast to San Diego County in the southwest, thousands upon thousands of CTA members, students, parents, and business and community leaders raised their voices and showed their support for public education by participating in CTA's Pink Friday campaign throughout Southern California.
Some of the most visible displays occurred at scores of major freeway overpasses throughout San Diego County. Local associations, including the Oceanside Teachers Association, the Carlsbad Unified Teachers Association, the San Marcos Educators Association, the Fallbrook elementary and high school teachers associations, the Valley Center-Pauma Teachers Association, the Ramona Teachers Association, and the San Pasqual Elementary Teachers Association, rallied and hung Pink Friday banners at overpasses along California Highway 78 and Interstate 15 in the north. Interstate 805, I-5 and California Highway 54 drew action from associations that included the National City Elementary Teachers Association, Chula Vista Educators, the Sweetwater Education Association, the Sweetwater Counseling and Guidance Association, the Southwest Teachers Association, and the San Ysidro Education Association. East County associations, including the Cajon Valley Education Association, the Grossmont Education Association, the La Mesa-Spring Valley Teachers Association, and the Lemon Grove Teachers Association, covered East County's Interstate 8. Also in East County, members of the Santee Teachers Association conducted a rally along one of Santee's busiest streets in front of a major shopping area.
"Teachers understand the economics of it. We get it," said Sally Estep, a fifth-grade teacher from Carlsbad's Calavera Hills Elementary, at the overpass rally above state Route 78 in Oceanside. "But you don't shortchange children."
Helix Charter High School teachers Jason Waller and Emily Kowalski — both of whom received RIF (reduction in force) notices — were among the association members at the East San Diego school who started Pink Friday early with a before-school rally to help inform parents and citizens about the detrimental effects that layoffs will have on students.
"I left the political arena to become a high school social studies teacher," said Kowalski, who also sponsors the school's Associated Student Body student governance group. "One thing about my situation is that it has given me a real-life teaching example. It has certainly motivated my students to get more involved in politics."
Five before-school rallies organized by members of the Santa Ana Education Association in Orange County were also among the earliest Pink Friday activities. But some events — like those mounted by the Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association (FETA) in North Orange County and by the Escondido Elementary Educators Association in San Diego County — were held Thursday afternoon to coincide with local school board meetings.
"We had a wonderful event," said FETA President Andy Montoya, "with over 700 supporters, including representatives from FETA, the California School Employees Association, and local PTA members, standing together to say that we will fight these budget cuts to our schools."
"It's the younger teachers fresh out of college, those who are so enthusiastic, who are getting the RIF notices," said Mary Lou Caldwell, a longtime teacher and president of the San Jacinto Teachers Association (SJTA) in Riverside County. "It's devastating for most of them."
SJTA's Pink Friday after-school rally was among other events in that corner of the county, including those organized by the San Bernardino Teachers Association, San Bernardino Community College, the Alvord Educators Association, the Redlands Teachers Association, the Redlands Education Support Professionals Association, and the Fontana Teachers Association.
In Imperial County, adjacent to the U.S.-Mexico border, Associated Calexico Teachers conducted a "Stand Up for Education" protest march and rally led by ACT President Carmen Durazo.
Quoting Helen Keller at a rally in Huntington Beach, Kathy Hogan, president of the Huntington Beach Elementary Teachers Association and of the West Orange County United Teachers coalition, spoke for thousands of her colleagues and their public education supporters about Pink Friday's ultimate effectiveness: "Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much."
Greater Bay Area
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Fremont Unified School District teachers like Matthew Ballin rallied on Pink Friday with strong chants and speeches of outrage against the cuts — except that Ballin sang his words to an original tune he had created.
Ballin strapped on his acoustic guitar and stood at the Fremont event before 400 teachers, students and parents who had just finished a march through town with CTA Secretary-Treasurer Daniel Vaughn. Ballin sang his protest song calling for more investment in California's students in this time of crisis. Titled "California Children (An Investment Proposal)," the sincere song set to a gentle folk melody has developed something of a following due to its timely, simple message:
"I don't know much about politics
Or finances, it's true,
And maybe I'm not qualified
To tell you what to do.
But it seems to me
Quite simple indeed
That we should be working for
Our California children
To give them so much more."
Ballin, 43, thought about his two daughters, ages 15 months and 5, when he wrote the song, and of the 271 teaching jobs cut in FUSD in Alameda County. At his Washington High School, 28 of 100 educators got layoff notices. Members of the Fremont Unified District Teachers Association made a video of the tune, using family pictures of their own kids, and posted it on CTA's www.pinkfriday09.org website, where hundreds have viewed it.
Ballin and the song were also featured in a TV news story aired by the local ABC affiliate, KGO-TV, and Ballin performed the song at a recent Fremont school board meeting.
"I wanted to change some things," he said regarding why he wrote the song. "If people hear it and give more of a damn about what's happening to our schools, if they become more active, then I will play the song anywhere."
The Bay Area Pink Friday events kicked off with a news conference March 11 in front of CTA headquarters in Burlingame.
Flanked by the entire CTA Board of Directors, a defiant President David A. Sanchez spoke before TV cameras and radio reporters about stopping the cuts that will hurt a generation of students.
"The future of the state depends on a well-educated workforce," said Sanchez. "Our public schools are the best hope for delivering that kind of future. We must make the transition from these times of unprecedented cuts to education to a time of unparalleled investment in our schools. Pink Friday is a start."
Sanchez was joined by Art McGaw, a music teacher for 25 years in the Millbrae School District in San Mateo County. His pink slip and other deep cuts threaten to deny any music education for nearly 400 students as yet another California district is forced to end a music program due to state cuts.
"I am here today as a music teacher," said McGaw, "who does not want the music to die."
That afternoon, CTA Vice President Dean E. Vogel spoke out against cuts at a rally in Walnut Creek. He was joined by more than 500 students, parents and teachers. Many of the educators were among the 655 pink-slipped by the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, the district that issued the most layoff notices in the Bay Area.
"The rally was tremendous," said Mt. Diablo Education Association President Mike Noce, who helped organize the event, which ended with a huge march around the area. "Everyone wore pink armbands and carried signs about the layoffs. All the cars were honking their horns in support of us. It really helped educate the public."
Elsewhere in Contra Costa County, teachers in San Ramon Valley Unified held Pink Friday protests at several schools by placing empty chairs outside campuses — a message also covered by local TV news, said Darren Day, president of the San Ramon Valley Education Association.
"Some of our members put pink T-shirts on the chairs, and some put the names of teachers who got pink slips," said Day of the 227 layoff notices. "We just wanted to keep the issue in front of the community."
In Marin County, about 18 percent of the county's teachers got pink slips. Sue Holland, president of the Dixie Teachers Association, sprayed her hair pink and protested outside her Miller Creek Middle School.
"People need to support public education," Holland told the Marin Independent Journal. "The kind of cuts we're experiencing are not okay for our children."
On Pink Friday, San Jose Teachers Association President Janice Allen joined CTA Board member Don Dawson for a 6 a.m. TV interview at Pioneer High School in San Jose.
"It was early to be out there, but it was worth it," said Allen. "We got our message out to the morning news audience and the cameras stayed as parents and teachers gathered for picketing before school started that morning."
A coalition of members from Monterey County's education community displayed a pink paper chain with links bearing the names of their 118 colleagues who may no longer have jobs next fall in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. The chain was given to an aide of Republican state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria to send a message that public education needs to be rescued from cuts.
Monterey Bay Teachers Association President Jill Low talked about California currently ranking 47th in education spending — even before the new state budget education cuts of more than $11 billion. "With all of the budget cuts they've now put in place, I think we probably rank 50th by now and that's shameful," Low told the Monterey County Herald.
Again and again, teachers sent the message about the long-term impact of school cuts that Fremont drama teacher Matthew Ballin underscored in the verses of his "California Children" song. Wearing his trademark Woody Guthrie-style cap, he sang out at the Fremont demonstration:
"We have not come to terms
With what we have sacrificed.
While we look to retirements,
Our children pay the price.
Providing the best ways to learn
Is what we all should do
Because the generation after this
Will need good teachers, too.