California Teachers Rally as 26,000 Job Cuts Loom

March 13 (Bloomberg) — California teachers organized protests in more than a dozen cities today as about 26,000 may lose their jobs because of spending cuts the Legislature approved last month to keep the state from running out of money.

School districts across the most-populous U.S. state have been warning thousands of teachers that they may be fired as a result of California’s declining tax collections. The plan signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger last month cut $8.4 billion from schools and community colleges out of $15 billion trimmed from state spending through June 2010.

“These cuts are going to hurt an entire generation of children and damage California’s public education system for years to come,” David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association union, said in a statement.

California is among the states hardest hit by the economic recession that slashed its revenue from July through February by $5.5 billion from the same period a year earlier, according to Controller John Chiang.

The state relies on the receipts to pay for schools, health care, jails and other programs. With less money, the state has temporarily scuttled thousands of construction projects and has forced more than 200,000 employees to take one day of unpaid leave every month, amounting to a 5 percent pay cut.

Cuts and Taxes

The state’s finances, which began worsening several weeks after the fiscal 2009 budget was signed on Sept. 23, prompted a four-month impasse over how to fill the gap.

In addition to the spending cuts, the plan raised taxes over the next two years by $13 billion, a step that some Republican legislators said would add pressure to the already reeling economy.

The governor, a Republican who bucked his party to back the tax increase, defended the school cuts.

“When you get forced into having to cut $17 billion, you have to cut it from everywhere,” Schwarzenegger said in a speech to The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco yesterday. “You have to cut it from prisons. You have to cut it from law enforcement. You cut it from health care and you cut it from education. You cut it from K-12. You cut it from higher education.”

Since the budget was passed, school districts from San Joaquin Valley, the agricultural heart that’s been battered by soaring home foreclosures, to Los Angeles have alerted teachers that they may not have jobs during the coming school year. Many of the demonstrations were being organized throughout the state were scheduled for the early evening, from rallies at Capitol in Sacramento to freeway overpasses in San Diego County.

Mike Myslinski, a spokesman for the teachers union, said thousands turned out at events earlier in the day, which were being organized via the Web site http://www.pinkfriday09.org.

California Among Worst

Not all teachers receiving notices will lose their jobs. Last year, about half were ultimately let go, according to the teachers union.

The threat of firings and temporary reductions comes in one of the worst job markets in the country. California’s unemployment rate jumped to 10.1 percent in January. That’s the fourth-highest rate in the country. In the state, 1.9 million are counted as unemployed.

Some of the funding strains on the school systems may be eased by measures signed by President Barack Obama that are intended to stimulate the U.S. economy. On March 7, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he would make $44 billion available within the next month-and-a-half to help school districts nationwide avoid firing hundreds of thousands of teachers.

California voters will have a hand in education funding on May 19, when a statewide election will determine six budget- related propositions adopted as part of the legislative accord last month.

In Limbo

Among the measures is Proposition 1B, which would alter the formulas used to determine how much money schools get. It would save the state money through June 2011, while forcing it to make additional payments of about $9.3 billion in the five or six years after that, according to the state’s legislative analyst.

That isn’t soon enough for the Los Angeles Unified School District. This week, it sent out 8,800 termination notices to employees, including 5,500 teachers.

Lydia Ramos, a spokeswoman for the district, said it is unclear how many jobs will ultimately be cut. Much of that will hinge on how much money the district gets from Washington, she said.

“We’re still in limbo,” Ramos said. “It’s going to go a long way toward easing the pain, but there will still be pain.”

To contact the reporter on this story: William Selway in San Francisco at wselway@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: March 13, 2009 18:07 EDT
By William Selway

Source: Bloomberg

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