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Teachers rally against education cuts during “Week of Action”

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, May 13th, 2011 at 1:20 pm in Education, Walnut Creek.

Walnut Creek school district teachers rally outside City Hall on Tuesday.

Walnut Creek school district teachers rally outside City Hall on Tuesday.

As part of a “Week of Action” aimed at drawing attention to a “State of Emergency” in California education funding, teachers are rallying in streets, malls and at the capitol.

Several educators from the Walnut Creek School District and Contra Costa County gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday to voice their opposition to an “all cuts” state budget and urge the Legislature to approve tax extensions.

Speakers included CTA Vice President-elect Eric Heins, firefighter Vince Wells, state PTA education advocate Nancy Vandell of San Ramon, County Superintendent of Schools Joe Ovick, Lafayette School District Superintendent Fred Brill and Walnut Creek Teachers Association President Kandi Lancaster.

Here’s an excerpt from what Heins, who teaches in Pittsburg, had to say:

“All of us have lived with drastic state budget cuts that are having a devastating impact on education and on community services. We meet here today on Main Street because these are Main Street issues. We can’t afford an all-cuts answer to the state budget deficit — which is why the California Teachers Association has launched a State of Emergency campaign statewide this week — to pressure legislators to extend current taxes legislatively. Our schools and cities can’t afford to wait any longer to protect the revenue we have left.

Our schools and colleges alone have had $20 billion cut in the past three years, while 40,000 educators have been laid off. This spring, at least another 20,000 California educators received pink slips, including more than 3,100 teachers in the Bay Area. We are losing new and veteran teachers who have committed themselves to our students.

Our classes are overflowing and the school year is being shortened. Teachers are taking unpaid furlough days. Arts, music, PE, school libraries, counseling programs are all eliminated from schools throughout the Bay Area and state. Our college students are paying higher fees and tuition for classes they can’t even get into….

This week is not the beginning, nor will it be the end. It won’t be the end until California comes up with a long-term solution to our budget problems so that we don’t continue to spiral downward. The health of our schools, services, our communities and our entire state depends on it.”

Lancaster, who teaches at Walnut Creek Intermediate, said that as her class sizes have gone up, the amount of time she can give to each student has diminished.

She also blasted Conoco Phillips for spending $100,000 to defeat a recent parcel tax in the John Swett district. The company complained that the tax would cost the company $400,000 a year. Yet, the company donates $300,000 annually to schools, she said.

“Do the math,” Lancaster said. “Three-hundred-thousand plus 100,000 equals 400,000.”

She also noted that $400,000 would be only 1.3 percent of the CEO’s $31.34 million salary.

The Walnut Creek district, on the other hand, has been able to pass parcel taxes and receives substantial parent and education foundation donations.

“But what about communities that aren’t so fortunate?” she said. “How will those districts — how can any district for that matter — continue to receive 80 cents on the dollar and strive to train students for the 21st century?

As a teacher, I work every day to open minds, build dreams, encourage diversity and serve as a role model. I expect nothing less from my elected officials. It’s time to send a message to our state legislators: If you won’t pass a budget that fully funds education, let the people decide, or get out of the way. Isn’t the future worth it?”

Across the street, some WCI teachers were holding a “Grade-In” at Caffe La Scala, showing that their day doesn’t end at 3 p.m. I spoke to a few of them about their concerns regarding the state budget.

Math teacher Carol Reeves, English and social studies teacher Carol Hoy and special education teacher Denise Weiss said larger classes are hurting students.

“I can’t teach them the way I did before,” Hoy said. “Their education’s already suffering and their parents aren’t aware of that. But I know it is.”

Lancaster, who joined them briefly, agreed. She said she gives fewer essay tests and assignments because they are so time-consuming to grade.

Now, Lancaster said, she gives tests using multiple choice Scantron forms that students bubble in, which can be read by a machine.

Hoy and Lancaster said they have six classes of about 32 students, compared to about 25 students per class before budget cuts. When they assign reports, they spend at least 15 minutes correcting each one, resulting in 48 hours of work outside class.

The teachers said they also have more special education students, those who don’t speak English as a first language and students whose parents are divorced.

“I had a kid today telling me his parents are divorced and he feels caught between the two and his dad was yelling at him,” one of the teachers said. “I was talking to him at lunch.”

Weiss said she sometimes buys food for needy families and Hoy said some students can’t afford athletic shoes for P.E.

“There are kids that we could help if we had the services,” Weiss said, adding that counselors have been cut. “We have one part-time nurse for the whole district.”

Yet, Hoy said, California’s curriculum standards have become more rigorous since she started teaching 35 years ago. This places a greater burden on teachers, even though they have fewer resources, she said.

Lancaster and hundreds of other Bay Area teachers plan to join a huge regional rally in San Francisco today (Friday) from 4-6 p.m. in front of City Hall in the Civic Center Plaza, marking the culmination of the State of Emergency “week of action.” The “Angry Tired Teachers Band” made up of Hayward Unified music teachers will perform, including pink-slipped saxophone player, Bryan Holbrook.

Speeches will begin at 5 p.m. from speakers include Carol Kocivar, president-elect of the State PTA; Alicia Sandoval, Parent Leadership Action Network; Cathy Campbell of the California Federation of Teachers; and pink-slipped Bay Area educators, including Union City teacher Quyen Tran, who is eight months pregnant.

In response to calls for Legislative action, local Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, plans to host a community event on Wednesday explaining the budget: https://asp.schoolmessenger.com:443/m/?s=QLQNTs1AxAs

Do you think the Legislature should extend taxes set to expire this summer?

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  • g

    We are already very heavily taxed. Extending current taxes will only whet the appetites of the greedy and allow waste to continue!

    One group fights to extend these taxes…another group is fighting to change the rules for passing parcel taxes…another group is threatening to close more schools, more parks, more police and fire stations, more, more, more if we don’t invent yet another tax! Well, some of us are all tapped out–and just “leaving” is not an option!

  • mdusdmomx4

    I would gladly pay more in taxes if it was guaranteed all districts in California were funded equally and fairly. If those on welfare, food stamps, Section 8 housing and Medicare were all drug tested, checked out and given a time limit, such as 1,2 or 3 years. No more extras for more children too. If all Unions were no longer allowed to donate to ANY campaign and teachers tenure was dissolved.

  • mdusdmomx4

    Whoops, not medicare, I meant Medi-Cal. Also those on free or reduced lunch did have to prove need on a semi-annual basis. Basically we would be a State that could help in the short term, so people and families can come up with long term solutions.

  • Anon

    To #1, #2, and #3
    Yes! You are exactly right.

  • Theresa Harrington

    One of the Walnut Creek teachers I interviewed said she thinks union leaders at the state level are out of touch with the classroom and that the union should stop spending so much money on glossy mailers.
    To see the Governor release his May revised budget live, tune into http://www.calchannel.com or http://gov.ca.gov at 11 a.m.

  • Steven A.

    It’s so nice teachers think I and all other taxpayers should continue paying higher taxes in order to save their jobs.

    And their unsustainable pensions.

    Teachers only contribute 8% of their salary towards their pension.

    Yet, the taxpayer picks up 12.25% (8.25% from district, 4% from state).

    You would be hard-pressed to find ANY private-sector employer that has a 401K match even close to the deal teachers are getting.

    Most 401Ks, IF there is a match, is 3% of the employee’s salary.

    Not to mention, private sector must also pay another 6.2% into Social Security, along with another 6.2% from their employer. Anyone paying attention to Social Security these days? It’s going broke…it probably will not be there when those of us retire 20+ years from now. I would LOVE to NOT HAVE to have that 6.2% confiscated from me.

    Speaking of going broke, teachers are in CalSTRS, which is nearly $60 billion unfunded. Who will bail out CalSTRS? And CalPERS. And UCRS. And the list goes on. Who? The taxpayers. Say, do those taxpayers with a 401K, do THEY have a government guarantee?