By Bill Guy
Some 1,200 San Diego Education Association members rallied before a school board meeting March 10 to protest the district's plans to pink-slip over 1,000 teachers and education support professionals.
“Our teachers lost their jobs, but our students lost their inspiration, motivation, and the people they looked up to every day.” This poignant statement by Portola Elementary PTA President Mandi Heathcote, at a March 15 Day of Action news conference held at Portola Elementary School in San Bruno, expressed the sadness and dismay felt by students, parents and supporters of public education statewide on the deadline day for California school districts to issue pink slips.
CTA President David A. Sanchez — joined by the CTA Board of Directors and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson — gave participants the grim news that nearly 19,000 pink slips had gone out, and predicted that the number would increase to more than 20,000 once all the schools had reported. “In my 30 years as a kindergarten teacher, I have never seen such unprecedented cuts that are so deep and impact so many,” said Sanchez.
The Education Coalition-sponsored event was just one of many similar events held throughout California on “Wear Red for Ed” Tuesday as CTA members and supporters of public education, reeling from the unprecedented cuts, conducted news conferences, participated in rallies and marches, and demonstrated at school board meetings to bring attention to the devastating impact that the loss of so many teachers and education support professionals will have on California’s students.
“Teachers, like those here in San Bruno, are struggling to give students the time and assistance they need to learn, as class sizes soar due to state cuts,” said Sanchez. “What kind of message are we sending to our students when we cram more and more of them into a classroom, or cut their music, arts and PE programs, take away their counselors, close the doors to their libraries, or reduce their school year? Otherwise, we are shortchanging the future of the students in this room, and the futures of the 6.2 million K-12 students we serve.”
Here’s a snapshot of events around the state.
In Alameda County, teachers, administrators and parents in the New Haven Unified School District conducted a 6:30 a.m. news conference March 15 in the Alvarado Middle School’s brand-new library — a facility that will close in the fall as part of $10 million in cuts if the governor’s budget plan and tax extensions are not approved and a May 3 parcel tax fails. The district has issued 60 pink slips.
Speakers included CTA Board members and Bay Area teachers Eric Heins and Don Dawson; a pink-slipped kindergarten teacher, Quyen Tran, who is six months pregnant; a high school librarian; and New Haven Teachers Association President Charmaine Kawaguchi.
The Alvarado Middle School jazz band — also on the chopping block — performed at the news conference.Sacramento
At the state Capitol, members of the Sacramento City Teachers Association stood some two hours in the rain at a rally sponsored by MoveOn.org to “Defend the Dream.” Teachers joined a crowd of labor and community organizations to protest the recent attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and around the country, and to highlight the impact of federal and state budget cuts.
In addition to sending out 400 pink slips to teachers, counselors and librarians, the Sacramento City Unified School District approved a “worst-case scenario” budget just two weeks earlier, threatening to cut financial support for sports, band, cheerleading, choir, drama, yearbook and debate. The school board has also voted to increase class sizes in all grade levels.
In all, the district is planning for a budget shortfall of $22.35 million. If the tax extensions that Gov. Jerry Brown proposes make it to the June ballot, SCTA President Linda Tuttle observed, the district “would only need to cut $6 million to $9 million,” an amount she still considers “ridiculous,” although bearable.Fresno
After receiving 257 layoff notices, members of the Fresno Teachers Association took their pink slip protest directly to the school board on March 9. FTA members filled the board room and tumbled out to the streets, where they shouted “Yes we can!” and waved signs that read, “Support kids, support teachers.”
The Fresno Unified School District also proposes cutting 73 temporary teachers, as well as cutting teachers’ salaries 5 percent. Among the programs that would be cut are home economics and vocational education programs.
“These are not fluff classes or hobby classes — these are life skills classes,” Mary Jo Stott, a Fresno High School home economics teacher, told the school board. As it is, the proposed cuts address just $53.8 million of the anticipated $71 million shortfall.Pomona
Members of Associated Pomona Teachers in Los Angeles County — who are facing another massive round of layoff notices in a district whose Adult and Career Education and its Child Development programs are in danger of being gutted — organized a “Code Red: Stand Up for Public Ed!” rally on March 15. Hundreds lined the street in front of district headquarters urging passersby to contact lawmakers and press them to protect education funding by placing the governor’s proposed tax extensions on the ballot.
APT President Tyra Weis spoke to the crowd about the unfair California tax system, which has led to the state slipping nearly to the bottom of the nation in per-pupil funding. APT was joined in the rally by parents, district classified staff and administrators, school board members, CTA local leaders from nearby Claremont and Chaffee, and local community activists, including representatives from MoveOn.org.Los Angeles
Members of United Teachers Los Angeles, in the nation’s second-largest school district, held an 8:30 a.m. press conference March 15 outside the offices of the Los Angeles Unified School District to decry massive cuts planned by the school board.
Later that same day, ignoring a mandate from parents and, in some cases, the recommendation of its own superintendent, the school board voted to give away four schools to outside operators, to reconstitute two existing “focus schools,” and to issue more than 7,000 pink slips to teachers and school personnel.
“Today, politics won over pedagogy. The parents’ voice has been silenced, and the true agenda of the school board majority has been exposed,” said UTLA President A.J. Duffy. “The school board majority clearly was doing the bidding of the mayor and his billionaire allies who want to privatize public education.”San Diego
Timing of a San Diego Unified School District School Board meeting — held on Thursday, March 10 — necessitated that the San Diego Education Association’s advocacy around layoff notices take place a few days prior to the March 15 Day of Action, when some 1,200 members protested the board’s vote to slash more than 1,000 jobs in the district.
“SDEA members and our supporters stood up to show that we are ready and willing to take on the fight to rescind each and every one of these layoff notices,” said SDEA President Bill Freeman. “SDEA members know that when we stand united, we win. We know that through experience. This year is no different. If we fight together to protect each other and our students, we will win.”
In solidarity with their fellow CTA members throughout the state, SDEA’s 8,000-plus members proudly wore red at their school sites on the March 15 Day of Action.New season of awareness events kicks off
Energized from the impetus of the Day of Action’s kickoff of a new season of protests, CTA’s 325,000 members now move forward in the task of helping generate support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget — including a June special election to extend some current taxes.
If the governor’s budget and tax extensions are not approved, schools could lose another $2.3 billion, the equivalent of $377 in cuts per student or more than $9,700 per classroom. If worst-case scenarios come true, the state legislative analyst predicts the additional cuts could be as high as $4.6 billion, slashing nearly $19,500 from each of California’s classrooms.