By Sherry Posnik-Goodwin and Bill Guy
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (center) joins CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett, Vice President Dean Vogel, Prsident David A. Sanchez, and Secretary-Treasurer Gail Mendez for a Summer Institute town hall meeting at UCLA.
At summer conferences this year, CTA leaders focused their efforts on organizing around the massive cuts to public education, rallying local communities to engage in the fight, and changing the two-thirds rule to pass a budget and approve new revenues.
In response to the sad state of public education funding in California, CTA is mobilizing members with a major organizing campaign to bring awareness to the more than $17 billion in cuts. The new strategy encourages every local affiliate to plan events to reach their local communities and stand up for our schools. You can get involved by logging on to www.standupforschools.org. Read sidebar.
While parents and members of the community drive by schools in their neighborhoods and see the grass is groomed and the flag is up, many have no idea how bad the situation is inside California schools, how schools are starving for additional resources.
"Public education has taken a beating," said CTA President David A. Sanchez at Summer Institute in Los Angeles. "It doesn't do our students any good for us to just grin and bear it and pretend everything's okay."
The summer conferences set the stage for discussing the new approach CTA leaders have envisioned for organizing against the latest massive cuts. Members attending the Presidents Conference and Summer Institute talked about tactics members might use to get the word out, such as not masking the problem and letting parents know how bad things are at school. Some talked about holding town hall meetings to engage the public in the discussions. Others spoke about the necessity of changing the two-thirds vote to secure and safeguard funding for public education. The following is what members at the conferences had to say.
Leaders at the first-ever town hall meeting during Presidents Conference in Asilomar offered personal input on how to educate community members and the public about the severity of the crisis facing schools and also shared their organizing strategies.
Form a coalition with local organizations, classified employees and administrators, advised Layne Wheeler, president of the Santa Barbara Teachers Association and chair of the Channel Islands Service Center. The tri-county coalition in his area is starting to get the message across. "Let people know that business is not being done as usual," he said. "There is a crisis in California, and they can help change it."
"Don't mask the problem," echoed Janice Allen, president of the San Jose Teachers Association. "If you have no paper and no supplies, take these issues to all the parent groups. If people go by and they see the flag up, the door open and buses pulling up, they think it's business as usual."
Participants agreed it's time to change "business as usual" in Sacramento and Washington. And CTA must lead the fight — starting with getting rid of the two-thirds vote required to pass a state budget.
"Our requirement for a supermajority to pass a budget and implement new taxes has created a super minority in this state," said Michael Kinsley, president of the John Swett Education Association. "We need to cut back on the minority's power base. They've been controlling the discussion for far too long. We need to shame them for what they've done to children in this state. It's disgraceful, and they need to be held accountable."
Work with your local superintendent if possible, advised Pat Sabo, a member of the Healdsburg Area Teachers Association and Service Center chair. Teachers in her area have met with administrators and jointly developed a flier they will hand out on Back to School nights about the dire future of education throughout California.
Kathy Bakhit, president of the Citrus College Faculty Association, urged attendees not to forget about higher education.
"We're here and need your help," said Bakhit. "It has affected us greatly in community colleges. This crisis has caused us to cancel at least 300 class sections. Thousands of students are not able to get classes, which delays graduation and transfers to CSU and UC campuses."
CTA President David A. Sanchez thanked leaders for their "phenomenal" ideas and said it is only the beginning of such dialogues throughout the state with members. "Fixing problems in Sacramento and funding for our schools are not things that will be taken care of overnight," he said. "It's a long-term process."
Sanchez added that getting rid of the two-thirds budget vote is a top CTA priority, along with eliminating tax loopholes for businesses and protecting higher education. Sanchez continued that call at Summer Institute in Los Angeles this year.
"One thing we know: We can't go back to school this year as though it's business as usual," said President Sanchez, rousing CTA's Summer Institute participants in the conference's opening general session at UCLA to organize against the latest cuts to California public schools.
Sanchez's rallying cry echoed the overall theme of this year's Summer Institute, raising awareness about the devastating cuts to public education. Conference workshops, presentations and events were all geared toward providing participants with vital information and motivation to enlist in the campaign.
Participants honed their skills in workshop tracks that included bargaining skills, communications, health care benefits and issues, member benefits, legal issues, the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), community outreach and school finance. Emerging association leaders participated in an intensive program designed especially for newly identified and elected leaders.
A special town hall meeting titled "Public Education and Building a Better California" closed out the conference by giving CTA members the opportunity to share personal examples of the devastating funding cuts with California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles area media.
"We must not mask the pain as we tell our personal stories about how our students and our schools are hurting," said Sanchez. "We have to get the entire community involved to build support for additional revenues for schools."
Highlighting substantial cuts to elementary music programs in Bakersfield and Kern County, Eric Dyer — himself laid off from a choral teaching position in the Rosedale Union School District — warned of long-term consequences. "The loss of these teachers and programs is a tragedy. Not only will it be difficult to rebuild these programs, but the cuts will ultimately affect middle and high school music programs."
Redlands Education Support Professionals Association member and district Director of Transportation Vickey Johnson spoke about concerns for child safety. "Why is the state cutting school transportation for our children when there is so much going on that makes it unsafe for children to walk to and from school?" asked Johnson. "We hear about so many children being abducted, and these cuts are sending the wrong message to our children about our concern for their safety."
"Improving support for public education is the best investment we can make for California's future," said Sanchez. "It's time to change the debate in Sacramento, but first, we must change conversations in our local communities to build a movement that supports more funding for public schools in California."