Several hundred teachers from Stanislaus County school districts rallied Monday afternoon outside California Assembly member Kristin Olsen’s office and on the corner of Standiford and Tully Road in Modesto.
The rally was held to raise awareness about funding cuts to education in recent years and to encourage the California legislature to pass tax extensions which would considerably lessen the blow to education.
Monday’s rally also served as part of the California Teachers Association’s statewide “State of Emergency” week, set to culminate this Friday when tens of thousands of educators march on the state Capital in Sacramento. Teachers have already begun sit-in demonstrations at the state Capital, leading to the arrest of 65 teachers for misdemeanor trespassing on Monday night.
“I think teachers work very hard and we do the best we can, but it has gotten to the point where we can’t meet all of the students’ needs because we are dealing with class sizes that have increased from 20 students to 28 students in two years,” said Shelly Barlow, a second-grade teacher at Crossroads Elementary in Riverbank. “If the tax extension isn’t approved, then we are looking at 32 students with one teacher and no aides. We have become not only a teacher, but a music, art and PE teacher as well.”
Budget cuts to education in the last three years have forced shorter school years, larger class sizes, layoffs to tens of thousands of teachers and salary cuts for most districts.
Currently, California ranks 43rd in the United States for per-pupil spending.
Polls earlier this year indicated that voters are essentially split on the issue of extending taxes, which include the continuation of income, sales and vehicle license taxes and fees.
Several weeks ago Governor Jerry Brown criticized republicans in the legislature for inhibiting a 2/3 vote to approve the tax extensions.
“Our hope is to get the tax extension passed in the legislature without having to go to the voters’ ballot but if it does and it doesn’t pass, then parents will respond when we have 30 to 1 classrooms. We aren’t asking people to vote on new taxes, we want to extend taxes they are already paying and have been paying,” said John Maciel, a teacher at Spratling Middle School in Keyes.
The effects the cuts will have on the children and their learning experience are of deep concern for Sylvan Union School District teacher Amber Leonetti, who is also a mother of three young girls.
“My hope is this doesn’t impact my children’s future. These cuts are impacting our curriculum, interaction and intervention abilities with students,” she said.
In addition to teachers and CTA representatives, the California School Employees Association Representative for Stanislaus County Kyle Harvey was at the rally to offer support for teachers.
“Right now everyone in education is being hurt and we all need to support each other,” said Harvey.
A small group of opposition demonstrators formed toward the end of the rally to call for an end to tax extensions.
“These taxes need to be allowed to expire and the money needs to go back into the pocket of Californians. Enough is enough for us. Teachers are some of the highest paid professions per hour in the state and yet most of the time they are just babysitters. Teachers need to be held accountable, the good ones need to be rewarded and unions need to get out of the way of education,” said Cheryl Kathcart, a local Tea Party activist.To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.