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Parents protest Head Start layoffs
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Head Start preschool students (left to right) Allie Bratcher, Michael Valdez, Oscar Ruesga and Nadya Acosta, display signs during a protest at Cunningham Elementary on Friday. - photo by JONATHAN MCCORKELL / The Journal

A group of about a dozen parents protested Friday outside the Cunningham Elementary Head Start preschool.

The parents were upset because of a May 6 layoff of four teacher aides and four family service workers at Cunningham, Wakefield and Osborn sites.

The protest was held in conjunction with new student registration in order to send a message to Turlock Unified School District officials that laying off teachers is unacceptable for their children.

In addition, parents were are not pleased with how TUSD officials gave out layoff notices during working hours on campus and teachers still had to return to work.

Head Start is a free, federally-funded program that serves low-income or at-risk children ages three to five years old. Nearly 160 children are served through Head Start programs in Turlock.

Monica Valdez, a Cunningham preschool parent voiced her opinions loudly during the protest shouting on a loud speaker, “Bring back Thelma,” in reference to Cunningham teacher’s aide Thelma Tovar, who was notified her last paycheck would come at the end of June.

“This is really going to affect a lot of kids. The teachers here have been awesome with my son, but less teachers means less one-on-one attention that kids in preschool need so much of at that age,” said Valdez. “This isn’t going to help this community or the children’s future. The kids are too young to speak for themselves so we are going to speak for them. A lot of kids have succeeded in elementary school because of this program and now you go and cut teachers, it isn’t right,” she continued.

Parents who were registering their kids for Head Start found the protest an awakening experience.

“It just makes me think how is my kid going to learn? There are going to be so many kids with not enough teachers. If they can’t learn, what is the point of bringing them?” asked Isabel Sanchez.

According to TUSD Human Resource Director Heidi Lawler, the layoffs are part of a legal process in which TUSD must layoff the employees and then negotiate with their union, the California School Employees Association (CSEA).

The four teachers and four family service workers could later be re-hired at a four percent pay cut in order to correct a pay imbalance in Head Start funding. Currently 97 percent of funding goes to salary and benefits.  

“We have met with CSEA and we have reached a tentative agreement at this time,” said Lawler.

To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.