By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin and Frank Wells
Educators and community members participate in a rally at Wilson High School in Long Beach.
“Stop Killing Public Education” said a sign waved by student Susan Gonzalez. She was one of thousands who came to the Wilson High School gym to protest the death of public education as we know it, unless legislators switch course.
“It’s unfair what is being done to our education system,” said Gonzalez, a CSU Long Beach student. “The future is being messed up — not just for me, but for the children who need education if they are going to succeed in the future. And we are the future.”
The guest speaker, CTA President David A. Sanchez, took the stage and announced that it is time to hold those who are cutting education responsible for what’s happening. “They are cutting classes and they are cutting teachers.”
More than 2,000 attended the afternoon rally at Wilson High, including teachers, college professors, students, parents and community members. Many had attended a protest earlier that day across the street at CSU Long Beach. Latecomers to the Wilson High rally were turned away in accordance with Fire Code regulations, and ended up protesting outside the building. Those inside the gym joined Sanchez in shouting, “No cuts! No compromises!”
Sanchez asked the crowd to join CTA in supporting an initiative to repeal tax breaks for large corporations. Signatures must be gathered before it can be put on the ballot.
“We can’t cut funds to schools and give tax breaks to large corporations, because that is wrong,” said Sanchez. “The government is making secret deals with these large corporations and giving them tax breaks. Join us to repeal them. We must talk to the public every chance we get — in grocery stores, movie theaters, everywhere. We must tell them what’s happening to our schools and what’s happening to our students. We must tell them enough is enough.”
In Long Beach Unified, more than 700 teachers were issued pink slips, including Mandi Reger, a teacher at Stevenson Elementary School for 11 years, who attended the rally.
“It’s going to hurt the students more than anything,” she said. “Everything we’ve worked for in the last decade to improve student achievement will be taken away by cuts and large class sizes. There will be a big education gap between these kids and the next generation.”
“Lawmakers hold schools accountable for student results, but accountability is a two-way street,” said Michael Day, president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach (TALB). “It’s time to protect education funding, and it’s time to protect our kids. If we don’t stop now, we’ll fail an entire generation.”
Teri Yamada, president of the CSU Long Beach California Faculty Association chapter, told the crowd the campus was forced to reduce student enrollment because employees are taking unpaid furlough days and classes have been cut. José F. Moreno, assistant professor in the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies at the college campus, also addressed the crowd. “You do not get a return on your investment unless you put money into it. And we should not look at education as a cost, but rather as an investment.”
“Public education is under attack, and we need to do something about it,” said Long Beach Community College Association President DeWayne Sheaffer. “It’s time to start taking it to the streets. We have to talk to our families, our friends and even our enemies. March 4 ends at midnight, but we must continue this fight. We mean business. Let’s make it count at the polls.”
Emily Peterson, a student at Hughes Middle School in Long Beach, asked teachers at her school who had received pink slips to join her onstage. “To me, it’s sad that Long Beach is laying off such wonderful teachers,” she said. “What can you do to save my future — or should I say our future?”
Tom Morello, formerly of the band Rage Against the Machine, entertained audience members on the guitar, singing “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.
“The wheels of history are in your hands, brothers and sisters,” said Morello. “What we do or fail to do will determine the future of our children.”
In Los Angeles, CTA President David A. Sanchez kicked off CTA’s “Start the Day for Students” by joining leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles, the California Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of Teachers for a news conference in Los Angeles. Sanchez urged the public to support CTA’s signature-gathering efforts for the Repeal Corporate Tax Loopholes Act, and he decried the backroom deals that had robbed schools of funding at a critical time.
“Those tax breaks cost the state annually just about the same amount the governor is now proposing cutting schools this year,” said Sanchez. “It’s not fair and it’s not right. In this environment everyone must pay their fair share.”
Gathering signatures was a focus of many activities throughout the day, and Southern California hosted several major afternoon events. Huge rallies were held at UCLA and CSU Northridge. Thousands packed Pershing Square, where protesters marched to the governor’s Los Angeles office to rail against his broken promises to schools.
Further up the coast, afternoon protests continued with a massive march down State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Teachers Association led the coalition of education groups, including UCSB students who bicycled in from the campus north of town to protest skyrocketing fees. They joined SBTA members, who have been struggling with $17 million in cuts over the past two years and large numbers of layoffs.
“Our community has been fortunate in that we’ve had outstanding schools and educators, and we’ve been able to see our students really achieve,” Santa Barbara Teachers Association President Layne Wheeler told the crowd. “But we just won’t be able to continue giving them the education they deserve when faced with cuts like this. Santa Barbara schools have already been hit too hard. It has to stop.”
Marchers chanted their support: “They say cut back, we say fight back!”