It wasn’t all fun and games at the Berkeley Federation of Teachers’ community rally against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed $4.8 billion state education budget cuts Wednesday, although there was some clowning around.
Some Berkeley public school teachers masqueraded as an overzealous Schwar-zenneger trying to “pink-slip” educators.
The teachers said it was to tell Sacramento, “It’s time to share the money.”
And Willard Middle School math teachers sang “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Get Fired Rag” to the tune of Country Joe McDonald’s “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”: “Hey there, governor, it seems to me, you got a big mansion, a big old moat, but remember we know how to vote!”
Parents, teachers, students, and union members came together in front of the Berkeley Unified School District’s headquarters at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way to decry the governor’s proposal to slash public school funding and give teachers potential lay off notices.
Berkeley Unified stands to lose up to $3.7 million from the proposed cuts, which could mean that the targeted teachers, counselors and special aid instructors will all lose their jobs after May.
District superintendent Bill Huyett told the crowd that 12 teachers were brought back from the list of 50 who were pink slipped last month.
“We feel terrible about laying off any teacher,” Huyett said. “It’s like eating the seed core. These teachers are among our best and our brightest. The state keeps cutting and cutting and one day there’s not going to be anything left.”
Huyett stressed the importance of the voter-approved statute that establishes a minimum level of funding for California schools, which is under threat.
District officials were able to salvage the 12 positions by determining school site budget and proposed budget reductions, Huyett said.
The governor’s proposed K-12 funding would slash $400 million from the state education funds this year and take away $4.4 billion in the next fiscal year, which means $700 less for each of the approximately 6.3 million public school students in the state.
“I am very scared for the Latino community,” said Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action lead organizer Belen Pulido-Martinez. “The programs that help our children are going to be hurt. As a result the achievement gap is going to increase.”
Education Week gave California a D+ for public school funding efforts. According to county officials, the state—which currently spends $2,000 less per student than the national average and ranks 46th nationally in school funding—ranks behind less prosperous states such as Louisiana and Mississippi.
PTAs from all the Berkeley public schools are mobilizing for an April 24 rally in Sacramento to join the state PTA in the fight to defend public education.
Students from Berkeley High and Independent Studies spoke in support of their pink-slipped college career counselors and teachers.
“As long as I can remember, I have been hearing about cuts,” said Independent Studies student Devin Gamble. “We are going about as if this system is perfect, but it’s not. I understand we need to limit spending but there must be other ways besides cutting jobs.”
Berkeley Board of Education member Karen Hemphill emphasized that California had a problem with revenue, and not spending.
“It takes only one thirds vote to cut the budget but two thirds to increase the revenue,” she said. “The system is broken. We are being held hostage by Republicans who have taken a pledge not to increase revenue and are inflicting deep cuts to education, social service and the health care system.”
Union members called on parents to write letters to their legislators requesting them to reinstate the vehicle license fee and close loopholes such as the yacht tax to increase revenue.
“The governor thinks you can bring the budget back in a few years,” said California Federation of Teachers (CFT) President Marty Hittelman.
“But a kindergarten student has only one year of kindergarten. A 11th grader has only one year of 11th grade. They can’t wait for four years. It’s a disgrace to be one of the most powerful and richest states in the world and cut education.”
Hittelman, who is scheduled to speak against the proposed cuts at the CFT convention today (Friday) in Oakland, encouraged community members to organize.
“We have plenty of money in California, It’s just in the wrong pockets,” he said to loud cheers. “When someone says to you, ‘let’s cut taxes,’ you should say to them, taxation is what you have to live in a civilized country. It’s the way we invest in our future.”
For information about joining the BUSD trip to Sacramento on April 24 contact BUSD Public Information Officer Mark Coplan at Mark_Coplan@berkeley.k12.ca.us.