California teachers rally against cuts

Four Bay Area teachers report on actions across California for the state's Day of the Teacher on May 14.

CALIFORNIA GOV. Arnold Schwarzenegger restored $1.8 billion to public education spending after proposing a $4.8 billion cut, as teachers took part in protests across the state.

Across the state, thousands of teachers rallied, picketed and held press conferences on May 14 for California's Day of the Teacher.

--In Oakland, more than 500 teachers, family members, support staff and community members from Oakland and Alameda gathered at Oakland's City Hall. Testimonial after testimonial demonstrated the need to fight the proposed budget cuts to education, as well as fight for a good contract for the union. Concerns about losing art, music and PE dominated the speeches, as well as stories about poor working conditions.

According to California Education Code, teachers without tenure can be fired without reason and without due process. Oakland's policy is even worse: teachers fired from their school are also prohibited from teaching anywhere else in Oakland. For a district with as high a turnover rate as Oakland (up to 35 percent in recent years), this punitive policy is outrageous.

Byron Hunter, a teacher at Community Day School, told his story to the teachers gathered at the rally. He was fired after three years of teaching, and five days before he was eligible for tenure. Another teacher described his experience working to become "highly qualified" in art, per No Child Left Behind, only to lose his job upon completion.

Stories like this pervade the district: punitive policies, lack of support, repeated demands on teachers to maintain our credentials.

In this context, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) is pursuing a bold set of contract demands, including radical class-size reduction and significant raises. Our contract is up this summer, and in the context of statewide cuts, a global recession, and skyrocketing food and gas prices, the OEA is absolutely correct to set demand what we really need to ensure a quality education.

For many union members, fighting is a scary prospect; however, fighting now and fighting to win is the only option we have to win a fair contract, defend public education and beat off these budget cuts.

--In Hayward, some 350 teachers from five adjacent school districts gathered at the busy intersection of Foothill and Mission during rush hour. Teachers picketed for almost three hours drawing support from passersby.

--In Fremont, some 150 teachers, custodians, students and parents rallied in the sweltering heat at Central Park. Service Employees International Union Local 1021 representing custodians and the California School Employees Association representing administrative assistants backed up the Fremont call to restore full funding to education.

--In San Francisco, United Educators of San Francisco chose to hold a modest press conference featuring the president of the California Teachers Association (CTA) and a small rally in South San Francisco.

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On the morning of the protests, Schwarzenegger abruptly announced a new formula for balancing the budget--leaning heavily on borrowing from future lotto earnings and financial slight of hand to deal a "softer blow" to health and human services.

It appears that the threat of a fight pushed the governor to back off his original plans. Yet there is a danger that the emerging coalition to stop the budget cuts will be derailed if the CTA withdraws from the ongoing fight to preserve funding for Medi-Cal and other human services.

In all, the protests in the San Francisco Bay Area played an important step in galvanizing public sentiment although they involved only a fraction of unionized teachers in the area.

John Gallagher, John Green, Adrienne Johnstone and Jessie Muldoon contributed to this article.