By Mike Myslinski
At Monte Gardens Elementary School in Concord, members hold a bake sale with $1 million cupcakes.
From school district “disaster” drills calling attention to the disastrous state cuts to bake sales with $1 million cupcakes to town hall meetings and rallies with parents and students, the San Francisco Bay Area reverberated on March 4 with the defiant voices of thousands of teachers all warning that the cuts must stop now.
CTA Vice President Dean Vogel spoke at news conferences in Concord and Alameda, where cuts are severe, and was interviewed live in the Oakland studios of a morning TV news program.
“I’m worried about the future of the students that are standing here,” Vogel said in Concord, as students, parents and educators flanked him for a 7:15 a.m. news conference in front of Monte Gardens Elementary School. “The massive state cuts to education are threatening their future.”
Another speaker, Mike Noce, president of the Mt. Diablo Education Association, warned of state cuts ruining local school districts. Mt. Diablo Unified issued 200 educator pink slips and will make nearly $49 million in cuts over the next three years.
“We have waited too long for Sacramento to solve the problems facing our students,” Noce said as four television news cameras took in the scene. “We need your help in the urgent effort today to speak out about the painful effects that cuts are having on our students, schools and communities.”
Near the podium, teachers held a mock bake sale with cupcakes going for $1 million each. Monte Gardens kindergarten teachers Lauren Jamieson and Denise Dobson held protest signs declaring “Education Cuts Never Heal” and “Schools Are Not Broken — They’re Broke!” Noce and other teachers wore “disaster attire” including hard hats and orange vests for a disaster drill held later that morning in the district to call attention to disastrous cuts — one of at least seven Bay Area districts to hold disaster drills on March 4.
Mt. Diablo Superintendent Steve Lawrence, PTA representatives, state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, Assembly Member Joan Buchanan and others decried the cuts.
In a noon rally in Alameda on the steps of the school district office, Vogel joined Alameda Education Association President Patricia Sanders, Alameda Unified Superintendent Kirsten Vital and school board President Ron Mooney in warning that the state must protect education from more blows. Nearly 150 Alameda educators could be laid off, and state cuts are increasing class sizes and raising the threat of furloughs for educators next year if a June parcel tax is not approved by voters.
Scores of Alameda High School students used their lunch hour to add to the protest with chants, cheers and handmade signs with messages like “Education Is The Future” and “My Education Matters!”
Public schools are “the cornerstone of a true democracy!” Sanders shouted as the crowd of reporters, participants and passersby listened in. She said afterward of the rally, “It showed real unity. It showed the community how important education really is.”
In Oakland Unified, where more than 120 teachers face pink slips and students face program cuts, Oakland Education Association President Betty Olson-Jones spoke at a news conference at the Elihu Harris State Office Building. Oakland teachers then boarded public mass transit for a ride to the huge 5 p.m. San Francisco Civic Center rally co-sponsored by United Educators of San Francisco and many concerned community groups.
More than 12,000 teachers, parents, students and other education supporters packed the peaceful San Francisco rally as television cameras swarmed the huge event, including cameras looking down from TV news helicopters. UESF President Dennis Kelly spoke with many others from a flatbed truck, and was enthusiastic a day later about the rally’s outcome.
“What we did collectively on Thursday should be an inspiration and an example for ourselves and others,” said Kelly. “We all came together as a body to demand the end to the injuries we have suffered. That message and that energy must continue. The sight of the sea of people from the deck of that flatbed truck was tremendous.”
In San Jose, Janice Allen — who has taught since 1972 and is president of the San Jose Teachers Association — marched against cuts downtown with her son Daniel Allen, 28, who is working on his master’s in U.S. History at San Jose State University. Cuts there have threatened many of the classes at the college.
Allen spoke out against state cuts in a noontime rally at SJSU with members of the California Faculty Association. Her San Jose Unified members are sacrificing five furlough days next school year to help the district cope with cuts, she said, so the march was meaningful for her on several levels.
Elsewhere, CTA Board member Eric Heins and Pittsburg Education Association President Chris Coan did informational picketing before school in Pittsburg Unified and rallied after school. In Sonoma County, educators spent part of the day calling local legislators to demand a stop to education cuts — and worked on getting the community to sign the CTA-sponsored Repeal Corporate Tax Loopholes ballot measure to reverse $2 billion in tax breaks given last year to large corporations.
Fremont Unified District Teachers Association President Brannin Dorsey joined scores of colleagues for a spirited afternoon rally against the laying off of up to 200 temporary teachers.
In Monterey, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell joined local educators in a rally against school cuts at Colton Hall on Pacific Street in Monterey, where Monterey Bay Teachers Association President Jill Low also spoke.
The day of action ended with an extraordinary education coalition town hall meeting at 6 p.m. attended by 300 parents and educators in the high-achieving Cupertino Union School District. It clearly showed that state cuts spare no district.
Of the 10,000 public schools in California, based on Academic Performance Index scores, 15 of Cupertino’s 25 schools are ranked in the top 150 in the state. And the district’s overall API ranks ninth highest of the state’s 1,000 school districts. Now, due to cuts, that success is threatened by pink slips being issued to more than 110 teachers and the district raising K-3 class sizes from 20 to 30 students, Cupertino Education Association President Dave Villafana told the hushed crowd in the gym of Lawson Middle School.
“We are in an unprecedented financial crisis that has been forced upon us by the state of California,” he said. “In spite of being one of the lowest-funded districts in the state, Cuperinto is one of the highest-performing.”
As questions came from the audience on school funding, the sacrifices of Cupertino educators in recent years — no raises this year and their covering of the entire burden of increased health care premiums for the last three years — became clear.
Parents at the town hall reiterated their campaign to raise $3 million to save teachers’ jobs and keep class sizes low, and helped staff tables to gather donations.
Parents listened as the town hall moderator, CTA Board member Don Dawson, a San Jose high school teacher, explained about the impacts of the governor’s latest broken promise — reneging on an agreement made last summer in the Legislature to restore $11.2 billion owed to schools under Proposition 98.
“The governor signed it,” Dawson said. “He wants to renege on that. That’s not right. In California, we have suffered enough from these things.”
Villafana ended with a call to action. “Please contact your legislators and let them know that we cannot continue to cut and cut and cut public education. We need to put pressure on them to come up with other solutions, or we need to find new legislators that will work with us.”