Friday, June 06, 2008

BUDGET PROTEST TAKES L.A. TEACHERS OUT OF CLASSROOMS: In a one-hour demonstration at the beginning of the day, teachers picket outside schools. Many parents join in. The LAUSD reports no safety problems.

 smf adds: Without comprising the solidarity - and I sincerely hope everyone who reads 4LAKids agrees with the teacher's position if not the walkout - but reportedly teachers at least one school challenged the walkout and elected not to join the protest because such an action requires a vote of the membership and no such vote was taken.

By Jason Song and Francisco Vara-Orta, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

11:18 AM PDT, June 6, 2008  - Thousands of Los Angeles teachers and parents held an hourlong demonstration this morning to protest proposed budget cuts, waving signs, shouting to passersby and delaying the start of the school day as students in the nation's second-largest school district waited in gymnasiums and auditoriums and on athletic fields. By 9 a.m. most protests had wound down.

    LAUSD teachers picket

Photos: LAUSD teachers picket

Protest stops traffic in West L.A.

Los Angeles Unified's attempt to halt teacher protest is rejected

    The demonstration, organized by United Teachers-Los Angeles, was intended to draw attention to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget, which provides a $193-million increase over last year's $56.6 billion in education funding. But L.A. Unified estimates that it will face a $353-million shortfall because the budget does not include a cost-of-living increase and cuts support to certain programs that will have to be paid with unrestricted general funds.

    District officials said it was not immediately clear what affect the demonstrations had on student attendance or what the net financial impact of the day would be, given the fact that the teachers who participated forfeited an hour's pay.

    No student injuries or safety concerns were reported during the protest, said district spokeswoman Ellen Morgan.

    The protest comes as the Board of Education prepares to vote on the district budget Tuesday. District officials have said that they hope to avoid cuts in the classroom, but that about 6,500 probationary teachers could be laid off, a possibility that the union has vowed to fight.

    L.A. teachers union President A.J. Duffy called the coordinated demonstrations "a great day for the teachers of L.A." and said they might hold another protest before the end of the school year this month.

    However, Duffy, who joined about 75 protesters at Los Angeles High School in Mid-City this morning, said the protest would have been more powerful if teachers had been joined by Supt. David Brewer, who had urged them to discuss budget cuts with district leaders instead of protesting.

    Doug R. Ahler, 24, was among the Los Angeles High School teachers who joined the protest.

    "I am particularly interested in this because I'm a first-year teacher," said Ahler, who teaches social studies. "I'm just doing whatever I can to fight to keep my job."

    Tenth-grader Gabriel Rivas was among the students who looked on with approval.

    "I think it's cool that they're exercising their right to protest," he said.

    Gabriel was among students districtwide who expected to spend the first hour or so of the day in a gym or auditorium. District officials said most students waited in cafeterias, auditoriums and playgrounds, where they were supervised by aides, parent volunteers and administrators as teachers picketed. Schools planned to deploy an additional 450 employees from central offices to campuses to help supervise.

    At Belvedere Elementary School in East Los Angeles, about 300 parents, teachers and students banged drums, shook maracas and hoisted bilingual signs reading "Save our schools," some hand-lettered in crayon and marker.

    "This affects all of us in the state. It's worth losing an hour [of school] if it gets kids Schwarzenegger's attention, because if they take everything away that would be worse," parent Lizbeth Roman, 25, of East L.A. said in Spanish as she marched with her three children, chanting, "More money for education!"

    A handful of teachers and volunteers at the school monitored about 300 to 400 students at a basketball court behind the school while younger students watched a movie inside. The teachers who monitored the students said they did so in solidarity with the protesting teachers to ensure the students were safe. Only children whose parents attended the protest were allowed to participate.

    Edward Stepanian, a second-grade teacher who helped organize the protest, rallied the morning crowd with a bullhorn.

    "We want more books, we want better classrooms, we just want what we need to give the students a good education," he said.

    One of his students, 8-year-old Roberto Castaneda, ran up to him with a sign written in blue crayon that read: "Governor Arnold give us our money back stop stealing from our kids."

    "More money for schools!" the boy yelled.

    At Queen Anne Place Elementary School in Mid-City, about 30 teachers and parents stood outside this morning in red T-shirts -- an emblem of the walkout -- carrying signs saying "Stop the Budget Cuts" and chanting "Save Our Schools"

    Parent Julio Nevarez, who was dropping his daughter Marle off for kindergarten, said he was confident teachers would keep his daughter safe during the protest.

    "Sometimes I worry about the neighborhood with all the gangs," he said, but, "It's a good school. They're always supervised."

    At Daniel Webster Middle School in West Lost Angeles, about 30 to 40 teachers marched along Sawtelle and National boulevards, waving signs and crossing back and forth. The protesters slowed traffic, inspiring drivers to honk, although it was unclear if it was in support or irritation. As morning commuters slowly made their way through the intersection, they could see hundreds of students on the school's athletic field, a striking sight in their black-and-white uniforms.

    Nearby, at University High, about 200 students, teachers and parents marched, waving signs at motorists, chanting and cheering.

    "I already think that we have a huge problem in California in that we're a wealthy state and we already fund education at [a ranking of] 48 out of the 50 states," said Pamela Doman, 53 a physical education teacher and swimming coach at the school. "To cut it and put us down at number 50 is, I think, unconscionable."

    Doman, who has worked for two decades at University High and a total of 25 in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said it bothered her that Schwarzenegger was elected on a platform of supporting schools and is now proposing cuts.

    Reading teacher Kyle Moody, 28, said he was among the protesters he needs support from the governor to battle illiteracy.

    "We have 9th and 10th graders in our schools that can't read," he said, which "only proves that we have to put more resources in our schools, not less."

    At Franklin High School in Highland Park, sophomore Steven Razo, 15, said most of his classmates were outside protesting when classes started at 7:20 a.m.

    "They're taking this much money away from education to go to the war and stuff, and that's not fair because little kids need this money for education," Razo said. "Teachers should get paid more."

    Los Angeles Unified School District officials had urged parents to send their children to class this morning.

    "Schools will still be the best place for them to be," Supt. David Brewer said at a Thursday morning news conference at 10th Street Elementary School.

    Also on Thursday, the district filed for a temporary restraining order to block the protest, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe declined the request.

    Earlier in the week, the state Public Employment Relations Board declined to file an injunction on behalf of the district, which had expressed concern that the demonstration could endanger students.

    "We're pleased that the court understood that the district request was not reasonable," Duffy said.

    Along with Brewer, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell asked all teachers to report to work on time and discuss the state's budget process with their students instead of picketing. He said he was concerned about safety and warned that the district could lose revenue if students don't come to school.

    "I understand the level of frustration . . . but we also know our teachers need to be in class, on track," he said.

    Schwarzenegger, who this week had asked teachers to reconsider reporting late, on Thursday said through a spokesman that he understood their concerns.

    "He's just as frustrated over the budget as they are," spokesman Aaron McLear said.

    As the hour of protest drew to a close this morning, the few hundred parents and teachers demonstrating at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights quickly got on with the day. By 8:45 the only group left was a contingent of mariachi students awaiting a bus ride to UCLA for a performance. Sofia DeLuna, a 17-year-old junior who sings and plays violin in the group, said she's seen three protests at the school relating to budget cuts, but didn't take part as only parents and teachers were allowed.

    "I think they do get attention but I'm not so sure about the results," DeLuna said. "Today, there were more people than in the past. Maybe they're getting fed up finally."

    As DeLuna and two dozen other students waited in their black-and-silver mariachi uniforms, a handful still shouted "Justicia!" and picked up the signs that protesters left behind.

    In between the shouts, though, the school day appeared back to normal as students shuffled between buildings to class.

    Times staff writers Mitchell Landsberg, Alice Short, Tami Abdollah and Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

    Budget protest takes L.A. teachers out of classrooms - Los Angeles Times

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