Teachers protest state cuts; dozens of layoffs possible
Alameda’s teachers gathered in front of schools Thursday to ask parents to call their legislators and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to demand the not make further funding cuts to education. The gatherings were part of a statewide day of action set up to protest state budget cuts to education.
The gatherings come two days after Alameda’s Board of Education approved a contract that allows the district to increase class sizes and cut days out of the next two school years. The district’s human resources director, Laurie McLachlan Fry, said she expects to hand pink slips to more than 90 of the district’s 600 teachers on March 15, the deadline the district faces for informing teachers that they could lose their jobs. Actual layoffs could begin taking place in May, McLachlan Fry said.
“This is the cornerstone of a true democracy. We need public education,” Alameda Education Association president Patricia Sanders said during a last-minute press conference Tuesday afternoon on the steps of Alameda High School that was organized by the California Teachers Association.
The association planned a statewide “Stand Up For Schools” action to draw attention to $2.5 billion in cuts to education they said the governor has proposed for next year and the loss of an additional $11.2 billion in back funding that they said the state had promised to repay this year. Schwarzenegger’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but he told an audience at the California Charter Schools Conference on Tuesday that his proposed budget provides the same level of funding to schools that they got last year.
State funding accounts for more than three-quarters of Alameda Unified’s budget.
“Balancing the budget of California on the backs of the students of this state is completely unacceptable. We as communities are not going to stand for it any longer,” CTA Vice President Dean Vogel said during the press conference, which had dozens of sign-waving students, teachers, administrators and school board trustees as a backdrop.
The district has balanced its budget this year by spending parcel tax money, one-time federal dollars, existing cash savings and “categorical” funds that are typically set aside for specific programs like teacher training and gifted and talented to cover general educational expenses. But with additional state cuts looming, the district is sending out pink slips and is seeking to reduce instructional days over each of the next two school years, and it has shuttered its summer school program for this year.
The school board appears headed toward placing a parcel tax on a June 22 mail ballot to bridge what district leaders have said will be an escalating budget deficit over the next few years. Without the money, district staff envision a list of cuts that could include elementary school music, art and physical education programs; school closures; and across-the-board salary reductions.
Speaking at the charter schools conference Tuesday in Sacramento, Schwarzenegger – who praised charters as “the best alternative” to troubled public schools – acknowledged that schools don’t have the money they should. He said legislators should fix the state’s budget and tax system and that the state should set up a “rainy day fund” to pay for public education.
“We should never have sent our kids on this roller coaster ride,” he said, referring to the epic ups and downs of the state budget.
State Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, told The Island on Tuesday that the state should make it clear that education is a priority and that they should find the money to fund it, though he stopped short of saying the state should increase taxes. Swanson said that if legislators “don’t have the courage” to find the money for schools, local school districts should be allowed to pass parcel taxes with a majority vote instead of a two-thirds vote, or the same 55 percent majority vote they need to pass a bond measure.
“The fact is, when you look at what California spends per pupil, that’s not anything to be proud of,” Swanson said.
Swanson said that if the state was able to reform its costly prison system and reduce high recidivism rates, it could use that money to help fund schools.
State Senator Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, said she supported Tuesday’s teacher actions.
“It is disgraceful that California’s per pupil funding of K-12 education is ranked near the bottom among all states – 47th out of 50, according to ‘Education Week’ magazine. That is not acceptable and it is certainly no way to prepare our young people for the future or to build the California economy,” Hancock wrote in a statement.
Hancock has a bill to allow the state budget to be adopted on a majority vote, instead of a two-thirds vote, as is now required.