In an effort to draw attention to proposed reductions in funding to school districts statewide, four local parents joined several dozen teachers who traveled to Sacramento last month to lobby state legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger against planned cutbacks to education.
Westchester/Playa del Rey Education Foundation president Kelly Kane, Bill Ring, John Ayres and Tanya Anton had meetings with several legislators on April 29th, where they voiced their collective concerns on what Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget reductions will do to schools and children within the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the nation’s second largest.
United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the school district’s largest teachers union, sponsored the Sacramento trip.
As the state budget deficit has skyrocketed to approximately $20 billion, legislators are considering a variety of areas that some may feel are ripe for the budget axe, and a coalition of teachers, union representatives and parents is rallying to do its best to head off any cuts to education.
Recent estimates place the targeted cutbacks to schools statewide at $460 million this year.
“[Legislators] don’t normally have parents coming to see them in Sacramento,” Kane said. “We’re letting them know that we’re watching them and we will be watching how they vote.”
Ring, who is the public relations officer of the Parent Collaborative and an organizer for the Local District 3 Parent Community Advisory Council, was invited by United Teachers of Los Angeles representatives to journey to the state capital as part of a “lobby day” to make state legislators aware that parents advocates and teachers have grave concerns about the proposed slashing of education funding.
“I’ve been through a couple of these budget cycles before, including one that downsized the number of LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] local districts from 11 to eight a few years ago,” Ring said. “The last time that I was in Sacramento, I realized that a lot of what happens with the budget revolves around how we fund education in California.”
Local District 3 includes Westchester schools.
Educators, many of whom could possibly lose their livelihoods if the proposed reductions are implemented, have also been busy in an effort to influence the governor not to make what many education advocates consider to be draconian measures.
“We will be taking a series of actions to send a message to the governor and the legislature that they cannot close the budget shortfall on the backs of teachers,” United Teachers of Los Angeles president A.J. Duffy asserted. “We will not sit by and allow the governor to make decisions that will harm students and the communities they live in.”
Duffy believes that the state’s elected representatives can and should look elsewhere before considering any strategy that would involve schools having money taken away from their budgets.
“This is the perfect opportunity for the governor and the legislature to look at progressive taxation, such as closing Prop. 13 loopholes and taxing oil companies for taking oil out of the ground,” he proposed.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials have also been gearing up in anticipation of substantial reductions to schools around the state.
“We’re going to work with the legislature and the governor on restoring, not cutting,” said L.A. Unified superintendent David Brewer III. “We will be working on our own cuts and efficiencies in our own system and revenue generation.
“The deficit is expected to get worse. This could be devastating to all school districts — not just L.A. Unified.”
District officials believe that any significant decreases in school budgets will cause considerable harm to student achievement and set back pupils who have been making steady progress. Over the last eight years, the district’s Academic Performance Index (API) for its elementary schools has risen 242 points.
Ronni Ephraim, L.A. Unified deputy superintendent for professional learning, development and leadership, said that Academic Performance Index improvement at many schools can be attributed to “strong school teamwork, quality instructional materials and skillful teaching.”
“Teacher coaching, combined with the most current instruction materials, helped these schools improve their scores, one student at a time,” said Ephraim. “The district’s severe budget crisis may force us to divert funding away from these programs, which could impact student achievement.”
Kane described her experience in Sacramento as “invigorating and educational.”
“Sometimes the only way to get people’s attention is to bang heads with them over and over again,” she added, referring to the state lawmakers. “WPEF [Westchester/ Playa del Rey Education Foundation] will be watching to see who votes and how they vote [regarding the planned education cuts].”
Ring noted that a number of meetings with elected officials that the L.A. teachers union had set up for the parents were with Democratic legislators and none were with Republicans, who are among the lawmakers that support cuts to education. So he and the other parent advocates decided to lobby several members of the Republican party as well.
“It seemed to us that we should be targeting Republicans also to express our concern with education and what we want for our kids,” said Ring, whose son recently graduated from Venice High School.
On Wednesday, May 14th, teachers and union representatives picketed in various locations throughout Los Angeles and passed out bumpers stickers that read “Cuts Hurt Kids.”
The union activity took place the same day Schwarzenegger was scheduled to announce his revised budget.
Duffy also mentioned the possibility of the district losing Title 1 funding, which supports additional math and reading instruction in high-poverty schools, and special education.
“We depend on Title 1 funding more than any other school district in the state,” he said.
Ring said that he and his independent parent organization, Transparent, plan to engage other Westside parents to visit their elected representatives at their district offices and let them know how strongly they feel about any cutbacks to school funding.
“We intend to be a force for what we believe is right,” Ring vowed.