Wednesday, May 4, 2011

2011-05-04 "West County Teachers, Parents Protest in El Cerrito Against Education Cuts; On the busy corner of San Pablo Avenue and Cutting Boulevard, teachers and parents spent the day Tuesday waving banners urging protection of students from budget cuts"
Saying they're fed up with state cuts to education year after year, teachers and parents of the West Contra Costa Unified School District held a protest rally all day Tuesday to draw attention to the impact on students.
Teachers took shifts before and after school while parents and retirees took the hours in between to maintain a constant presence on the busy corner of San Pablo Avenue and Cutting Boulevard in El Ceritto.
“State of Emergency. Sixty kids in PE, 45 kids in science,” parent Charles Rachlis called out from a bullhorn. "State of Emergency. No money for education but 84 billionaires live in California.” His daughter is a ninth-grader at El Ceritto High School.
The West Contra Costa district — like districts up and down California — is bracing for a new cuts the state says are likely following the collapse of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for extending certain taxes to fix the state budget deficit without cutting education.
Brown had said K-12 education had already been cut too much, following losses of $18 billion in the last three years. But his plan involved convincing the legislature to put a tax extension measure on the June ballot, and Republican legislators did not agree, leaving him short of the two-thirds legislative approval needed to pass any budget-related item.
Now, the state is advising school districts to plan on a cut of $330 per student in the budget for the next academic year.
For this district, that’s estimated to be a $11.6 million loss.
“I feel like kids, especially the kids in West Richmond, need more resources — more books, more teachers — not less," said Mary Flanagan, a third grade teacher at Nystrom Elementary School in Richmond. "We don’t have anyone teaching art, science or PE at the elementary level.”
Flanagan said that six of the 24 teachers in her school had received pink slips indicating they'll be losing their jobs at the end of the school year.
Districtwide, 80 teachers are holding layoff notices. Earlier this spring 138 teachers were handed pink slips, but some of those were rescinded, leaving 80 without. The district employs about 1,500 teachers to teach K-12.
State funds account for 84.2 percent of the West County schools budget, while local parcel taxes and donations account for 7 percent and the federal government 8.8 percent.
“This is something much bigger than El Cerrito. This is an attack on all public schools," said Rachlis. Republicans and Democrats alike are enforcing an austerity on the schools. Meanwhile there are 84 billionaires in California. Right down the block Chevron is raking in billions, but our schools are falling part.”
School districts won’t really know what their resources from the state will be until at least May 15 when the governor is expected to release a revision of his proposed January budget. Even that budget is subject to possibly significant change as legislators negotiate and horse trade before hammering out a final budget. It could get worse.
Or it could get better. If Brown manages to convince just two Republicans of the need for tax extensions — or even just to ask voters in a ballot measure whether they want to extend the temporary taxes a few more years — then the cuts to education might be avoided.
Teachers and parents in the West Contra Costa Unified School District protested state cuts to education in El Cerrito, May 3, 2011. Credit Barbara Grady

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