SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Dozens of California teachers rallied Monday at the Capitol, launching a week of statewide protests over the threat of deep budget cuts to public education.
The demonstrations and teach-ins were planned as schools face the prospect of mass layoffs, program cuts and shorter school years. The protests will culminate Friday with a sit-in at the state Capitol.
“We’re here to make a statement,” said Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco, which represents more than 6,000 employees of the San Francisco Unified School District.
Kelly was among about 100 school personnel who gathered at 5:30 a.m. and marched to school district headquarters. About 60 then boarded a chartered bus to Sacramento to protest and lobby lawmakers.
Teachers want the Legislature to extend temporary increases to the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes that will expire by June 30. Gov. Jerry Brown favors a special election so California voters can decide how to close the state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit.
The California Federation of Teachers unveiled a radio ad Monday singling out GOP state senators who oppose the tax extensions. The ads feature a high school language instructor who has been threatened twice by layoffs and would likely lose her job under a new round of cuts.
The ad will run in the districts of Republican senators Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks, Anthony Cannella of Ceres, and Tom Berryhill of Modesto.
The upcoming rallies mark an escalation of efforts by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, which waited while Brown tried to negotiate a deal with Republicans to put his proposal before voters. Since that effort failed, the teachers are now delivering their message directly.
“They have the opportunity to extend these taxes legislatively, and we believe that is the right way to go,” said David Sanchez, association president.
Without a renewal of the tax increases, Brown and Democratic lawmakers warn that the state will be forced to make deep spending cuts that affect the lives of nearly every Californian and further erode the quality of the public school system.
“If you think the $113 million we cut last year was something, wait until you see what $84 million more means,” said San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia, addressing the rally. “I think it’s time to get mad as hell and say enough. This is a disgrace, a national disgrace.”
Garcia also said California should consider revising Proposition 13, the 1978 voter initiative that capped property tax increases, so more tax revenue can be generated from commercial properties.
The repeated education cuts are “making public education unsustainable, and I don’t think that’s hyperbole,” said Noah Weaker, a fourth-grade teacher at Fairmount Elementary School in San Francisco who took part in the Monday rally.
Nine freeway billboards have already gone up statewide using the campaign’s tagline: “State of Emergency.”
The effort includes delivering letters to the offices of lawmakers, including Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.
The California Teachers Association’s action plan for the week says “300 volunteers will be stationed outside her office wearing shirts saying, `I will be a lay-off!”‘
On Friday, Conway proposed the state Legislature direct $2.5 billion in previously unanticipated tax revenue to schools as a way to avoid deep cuts.
The state Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated the state brought in higher than projected personal income, corporate and sales taxes since the fiscal year started July 1, but the governor’s office warned that costs also are expected to rise.
School districts around California have issued about 20,000 pink slips to teachers and other school employees. The layoffs would take effect for the next school year if the money to pay for those positions does not materialize.
Six in every 10 California school districts already have reduced the number of school days in the academic year since the Legislature allowed such moves to save money. The mandatory limit had been 180 days.
The 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers is also participating in the weeklong series of events. On Monday, the federation said it was backing AB1130 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D- San Francisco, which would increase the income tax rate from 9.3 percent to 10.3 percent on taxable income of $500,000 and up, spokesman Steve Hopcraft said.
The bill is pending in the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee and would need GOP votes for approval.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)