Saving LA schools from the budget ax

I AM a teacher at a high school of 4,800 students in East Los Angeles. If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed 10 percent cut in California's education budget goes through, the LA schools alone will lose $450 million. This level of cuts could mean layoffs of thousands of probationary teachers (those in the first two years of their credentials), class-size increases and cuts in health benefits.

After our last union meeting, three of my co-workers and I decided to reach out to parents to start an alliance to fight the cuts. Although the district did not allow us to meet on school grounds because the meeting was "too political," 30 parents, students and teachers gathered at a nearby café to discuss why the cuts are unjustified and what we can do to stop them.

One parent pointed out, "[Los Angeles Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa is supposedly on a campaign against gangs. But if they cut more money from schools, there's going to be a whole new wave of kids joining gangs."

Another discussed how his health care benefits have already been slashed to the bone, and asked why the politicians in Sacramento aren't cutting their own salaries. Two other parents talked about the millions going to the war in Iraq while our schools are attacked.

Later that week, a group of 12 parents, students and teachers met at the local school district offices to ask why we're not being allowed to meet on campus to discuss these pressing issues. Los Angeles' eight "mini-district" buildings are fortresses of bureaucrats who rarely have to see the faces of the people they're supposed to be serving.

When confronted by our organized group, they quickly backed down! Our second organizing meeting was held on campus, and we made plans to attend a citywide rally and then hold a town hall meeting against the cuts at our school.

A struggle to stop these draconian budget cuts has the potential to bring teachers together with parents and students into a unified movement for public education. It also gives us an opportunity to involve newer teachers in union activism--by proving that we will not back down until their jobs are saved.
Gillian Russom, Los Angeles