By Mike Myslinski
Across California, students, educators, administrators and school board members made their voices heard in November during American Education Week. Events reminded the public of the damage done to classrooms from the state’s unprecedented $17 billion in cuts to education over the last two years.
“American Education Week is traditionally a time to celebrate our public schools and the success of our students,” said CTA President David A. Sanchez. “Our students are making steady progress, but this year is marred by the billions of dollars cut from our public schools and the damage being done to the academic future of our kids.”
American Education Week was launched 88 years ago by the National Education Association. Sanchez spoke at a Sacramento news conference with other Education Coalition leaders during the Nov. 15-21 celebration of public schools.
Joining Sanchez in speaking out at the news conference were many other leaders of the education community. Jo Loss, president of the California State PTA, which has nearly 1 million members throughout the state, was one participant.
“Parents are stepping up as never before to help out our schools,” said Loss. “They’re volunteering in classrooms, serving on committees and joining PTAs in rising numbers. But they can’t make up for ongoing budget cuts. These cuts undermine all our talk about rising expectations, widening opportunity and closing the achievement gap.”
“Time and again, voters have said that education should be protected from cuts, and that we should invest in our students and our state’s future,” echoed Paula S. Campbell, president of the California School Boards Association. “Our students simply cannot sustain further cuts. It’s time for our leaders to focus on real priorities — and for voters to hold those who don’t accountable.”
A report detailing this year’s impacts of the school cuts was released by Education Coalition leaders from the perspective of students, teachers and administrators across California. Excerpts from the report tell the story of the damage being done.
“On the first day of school, my seat in math was in the far corner and I couldn’t read the board,” said Stephany Young, 15, a student at Walnut High School in Walnut. “With increased class sizes, it takes longer to go through a math lecture, since the teacher has to answer more questions. Instead of being able to go over homework quickly and teach the lesson slowly, we spend half of class answering questions, leaving only 20 minutes for the new lesson.”
“We lost several key staff members,” said teacher Betsy Vega from the Santa Ana Unified School District. “We have not been able to use our library this year because we do not have a librarian. We have lost our bilingual resource teachers, thus, our most needy students [low-achieving students and English learners] are not being adequately served.”
In the Bay Area, the Santa Clara County Education Coalition sounded the alarm with a news conference in San Jose at a school in the Franklin-McKinley district.
“Just like in school districts all over California, here in Santa Clara County, we’ve seen our class sizes increase,” said Don Dawson, a high school teacher in the East Side Union High School District in San Jose and a member of the CTA Board of Directors. “We are having to jam five students or more in high school classes and an extra 10 kids in elementary school classrooms. It’s not business as usual in our classrooms anymore — large classes make it harder for students to get the individual attention they deserve.”
Fabio Gonzalez, a member of the San Jose Evergreen Community College Faculty, AFT 6157, noted that state funding for community colleges has been slashed by more than 16 percent at the same time that fees have risen 30 percent and fewer courses are being offered. “The CSU trustees and UC regents are raising the costs of a four-year education out of the reach of working families,” said Gonzalez. “Unless our state’s leaders close corporate tax loopholes, generate more revenue and stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of California’s students, we will rob generations of students of the quality education they deserve now and into the future.”
At a high school in San Francisco, Bay Area educators, parents and school supporters stood up for public schools at an emotional town hall meeting, held jointly by CTA and CFT, detailing school cuts in the region. The town hall moderators were Larry Allen, the CTA Board member representing San Francisco; Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco; and Gus Goldstein, president, AFT Local 2121, San Francisco Community College Federation of Teachers.
Holding a microphone and speaking out about school library staff cuts was Josephine Carson, a librarian in the 33,000-student Mt. Diablo Unified School District covering Walnut Creek, Concord and Pleasant Hill. She now covers three middle schools and spends most of her time just checking in books to students. “I used to teach information literacy, how to do research.”
Carson said the district, which lost more than 190 teachers and faces another round of deep cuts, routinely opens middle school libraries only two days a week — three days a week at high schools. Some elementary school libraries only open one day.
In Orange County, educators and others spoke out at a Costa Mesa news conference about local drastic cuts, especially in the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD). Local CTA Board members Michael Stone and Jim Rogers were joined by Vicki Soderberg, president of the Capistrano Unified Educators Association.
“The students in Capistrano Unified School District are reeling from the cuts in education funding,” Soderberg said. “Small class sizes have been eliminated in the primary grades, larger class sizes prevail in the secondary classrooms. Simple supplies such as colored pencils, pens, glue sticks, paints are now provided by the teacher, not the school district.
“Reducing teacher compensation by 10 percent makes no sense for a district like Capistrano, which is a growing district and needs to continually retain and recruit classroom teachers, special education teachers and certificated support personnel.”
She criticized the district for using staff layoffs to solve its budget problems. “Although the CUSD school board has already laid off close to 200 teachers, they insist upon looking to certificated employees to solve their budget problems,” said Soderberg, “even as they continue to recklessly and unnecessarily mismanage district funds.”
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