Saturday, May 14, 2011

$12 BILLION IN CUTS SEEN: 5,000 teachers rally for funding in Pershing Square

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

Thousands of local teachers, parents, students and community members protest state cuts to education at Pershing Square in Los Angeles Friday, May 13, 2011. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

14 May 2011 - Some 5,000 teachers rallied at downtown's Pershing Square on Friday, joining thousands of colleagues from across California in a day of massive protests against state budget cuts to education.

From San Diego to the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, the day's multiple rallies culminated a week of demonstrations organized by the California Teachers Association to draw attention to some $12 billion in potential cuts that could be looming for education.

"It's time for Sacramento to put their money where their mouth is," said Theresa Montano, a CTA board member and professor at California State University, Northridge.

"It's disgusting that every year we have to beg for money to fund society's most basic necessities."

Students, parents, the mascot and teachers rally at Plummer Street Elementary School to protest state budget cuts. At this North Hills campus, which has turned itself around academically over the last decade, 40 percent of teachers have received layoff notices. (David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to release his May revision budget plan on Monday, including details on how the state can close a $15 billion deficit. Teachers are hoping to pressure Republican lawmakers into supporting the governor's plan for extending a series of temporary increases in the sales, vehicle and income taxes that expire this year. Without them, the CTA estimates education could face some $12 billion in cuts.

Districts across the state, including Los Angeles Unified, have already approved worst-case scenario budgets which have caused thousands of teachers to receive layoff notices. Still, some educators on Friday said they remain hopeful an alternative solution will be found.

At LAUSD more than 5,000 teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses have been targeted for layoffs in an effort to close the district's deficit of $408 million for the 2011-12 school year.

Those potential cuts have wreaked havoc at schools like Plummer Street Elementary in North Hills, where 16 teachers - 40 percent of the campus's staff - have received the dreaded notices.

On Friday, Plummer's teachers were among hundreds of educators, students and parents who held mini-rallies at their neighborhood campuses to voice their concerns about the future of education.

"I think it's so unfair that after turning our school around and producing these extraordinary results, teachers could now be laid off," said Danilo Valladares, a father of two Plummer students.

Over the last decade Plummer has moved from being one of the state's worst performing schools to one of the best despite serving predominantly English language learners and students from low-income families.

In 2009 Plummer students earned a score of 811 on California's Academic Performance Index, which measures student test scores on a scale from 200 to 1,000 points. Their scores are nearly double what they were 10 years ago and earned Plummer the distinction of being a California Distinguished School.

But that success is jeopardized by looming cuts, Plummer teachers said.

"Our entire team has been through a long journey of transformation," said Steven King, Plummer's English language learner coordinator.

"We're a well-oiled machine now ... it took a lot of work to get here ... if these cuts are not rescinded it's going to be incredibly difficult to keep going with the level of instruction we've got going on right now."

For months now, educators have urged Sacramento legislators to approve placing tax extensions on the ballot as urged by Brown. The plan could hold school funding at its current level for the next five years.

However, the window for that option is closing quickly and with the governor's May revision budget set to be released Monday, concern is growing for most teachers.

Republican lawmakers have offered their own budget plan, which relies in part on what they say is unexpected revenue that can be used to fund schools. But Democrats say the Republican plan falls short of what schools need.

Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, argued that the Republican plan would protect education.

"Protecting education and public safety should be the state's highest priority," Runner said. "The state recently received an unexpected windfall of $2.5 billion, and these additional revenues eliminate the need to reduce funding for education."

LAUSD officials have already warned that without additional funding class sizes will grow at almost all grade levels across the district and special programs like arts and music will be decimated.

According to an emergency budget plan drafted by LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, 80 percent of next year's cuts could be avoided if all of the district's employees agree to taking 12 furlough days and if union leaders allow the district to borrow from a health and benefits account.

At least four LAUSD employee unions have agreed to this already but United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents the majority of the district's workers, has yet to approve the deal.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy said the union is negotiating on the furlough deal but he stressed that district officials might still have to produce more cuts to administration to get teachers to agree to more furloughs.

"We are not convinced, and neither are most of our members, that the district has ponied up everything it can," Duffy said. "I have to believe that they have and I have to convince 40,000 members."

Deasy said he is working to save jobs and hopes the UTLA will join the other unions in supporting his plan to have more furloughs instead of job cuts.

"I want to save as many jobs as possible and as quickly as possible. I offered my plan over a month ago," Deasy said.

At Pershing Square, thousands of teachers gathered from all over the city, including an estimated 2,000 from Valley schools in Chatsworth, Van Nuys and Pacoima, among others.

They filled the square, spilling out into the streets, whistling, chanting and waving signs that read "Cuts hurt kids" and "LAUSD can't afford to lose me." Some cars driving by honked in support.

Teachers had mixed feelings on the district's budget plan. While some educators came up personally to union leaders to ask about the status of negotiations, others criticized LAUSD for balancing the budget on the backs of teachers.

"I think the district has been mismanaged for years," said 18-year LAUSD teacher Vicki Eggers, who works at a Westchester elementary school. "This budget solves the district's problems at the expense of teachers."

Deasy disagreed with that view, saying the cuts hurt everyone at the district equally.

"This plan is not on the backs of teachers," Deasy said. "It's on the back of every employee. Every employee is being asked to take furloughs. And a furlough is better than unemployment."

He added that he stands in solidarity with the teachers' protests against the state's budget actions.

Other teachers questioned the district budget plan for being a temporary one-year fix.

"Let's find a plan that fixes our schools, not for a year, but permanently," said kindergarten teacher Maria Manzo, speaking at the Plummer school rally. "Our kids deserve that."

No comments: