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Schools fed up with local budget cuts

Thousands gather around the valley, state to protest teacher layoffs

Posted: March 14, 2009 1:11 a.m.
Updated: March 14, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Eleven-year-old Santa Clarita Elementary School fifth-grader Matt Skier chants on the corner of Bouquet Canyon Road and Newhall Ranch Road Friday afternoon.

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Hundreds of teachers, administrators and parents dressed in pink lined Santa Clarita Valley intersections Friday to protest pink slips issued to teachers across the state - and the impact they say those layoffs will have on children's futures.

"When we don't fund education, we are taking that right away from the children," said Patty Fitzpatrick, president of the 283-member Sulphur Springs School District Teachers Association.

"We're taking away something that can never be replaced," said Fitzpatrick, who joined other protesters at the intersection of Soledad Canyon and Whites Canyon roads.

The state budget passed by legislators last month includes $11.6 billion in cuts to the public education budget over the next 15 months, according to Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction.

The budget cuts will have a lasting effect on current and future students, protesters said.

"We're raising a whole generation of children who have been cheated out of an opportunity they're entitled to," Fitzpatrick said.
Sulphur Springs sent 72 layoff notices to teachers.

The state Department of Education estimates that preliminary pink slips will have been handed to 26,500 teachers by the Sunday deadline - 2 1/2 times as many as were issued last year. Another 15,000 bus drivers, janitors, secretaries and administrators also were expected to receive the written warnings, O'Connell said.

At about 10 major Santa Clarita Valley intersections, demonstrators wearing stickers with "I Am Standing Up For Schools" carried signs saying, "Shame on Teacher Cuts." Passing motorists honked and waved to the cheering protesters.

At the intersection of Valencia Boulevard and Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus Union School District supporters gathered to voice their frustration with the budget cuts.

Skyblue Mesa teachers Cheryl Cameron and Abby Peak are two of the Saugus Union School District's 35 teachers given pink slips this week in an effort to meet a $3 million budget shortfall for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

The two are the school's only fourth-grade teachers and worry that if laid off, they will have to leave teaching.

"Right now, for teachers there are no options," Cameron said.

Peak says education will be compromised if the cuts continue, a message she hoped to send to Santa Clarita Valley families during the protest.

"This is a problem and it's going to affect their children and children's future," Peak said.

Conzuelo Phippen of Canyon Country is a Skyblue Mesa parent who wants the cuts to education stopped.

"We need them to cut somewhere else, not in education," she said.

Her mother, a bilingual aid for the Newhall School District, received her pink slip this week.

"It's just sad. We need our teachers," she said.

The statewide "Pink Friday" protests were organized by the California Teachers Association.

"The number of layoff notices for educators is double the number issued at this time last year," said David Sanchez, president of the 340,000-member CTA. "These cuts are going to hurt an entire generation of children and damage California's public education system for years to come."

The protests drew support from O'Connell.

"School districts up and down this state are sending out pink slips to tens of thousands of hard-working, dedicated teachers, administrators and school staff," O'Connell said in a statement Friday. "Cuts of this magnitude will have devastating effects in our classrooms across the state."

Last year, about 10,000 teachers across the state received pink slips and an estimated 5,000 ultimately lost their jobs, O'Connell said.

"Before the current cuts were enacted, California already ranked 47th in the nation in per-pupil spending," O'Connell said. "These current cuts are sure to push us further down the scale.

"Our future depends on our ability to prepare the next generation for success in the hyper-competitive global economy. The budget crisis and the teacher layoffs we are now witnessing makes that challenge much, much harder."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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