By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
High school Spanish teacher Silvia Langan pulled a composition book from a large plastic container Tuesday afternoon, preparing to grade the journal entries and essays as the wind flapped the pages.
“I do this every day in my classroom, so I decided to do it here,” the Roseland University Prep teacher said.
She was one of about 25 teachers who gathered in Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa on Tuesday afternoon for a public demonstration of what teachers do after the final bell rings on campuses across California.
“People don’t realize how teachers work,” Langan said. “School ends at 3:15 p.m. but we work hours and hours correcting papers and preparing lesson plans.”
The teach-in was part of a statewide campaign spearheaded by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to urge lawmakers to support tax extensions to lessen the impact of the state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit — $4 billion of which likely would come from schools.
As part of the State of Emergency campaign, teachers have spent mornings in front of schools with signs urging parents to contact lawmakers regarding the budget impasses.
The Rohnert Park Cotati Educators Association is holding a forum tonight at Spreckels Performing Arts Center to highlight what teachers union President Stacie McGwier called “a constant state of loss and reorganization” caused by diminishing funding. On Friday, Windsor educators are planning a rally in Esposti Park.
“In our district, we lost our librarians, lost a number of teachers who were temporary, and our class sizes (have grown),” said Dan Evans, a Rincon Valley Middle School counselor and member of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association political action committee.
He called further cuts an impending “disaster” for education in California.
But Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said the statewide protests are holding little sway with Republicans, who have so far successfully blocked Democrats’ bids to put the tax extensions on the ballot.
Conway pointed to the additional $2.5 billion in unanticipated tax revenue expected to flow into the state and said that unexpected funding should be directed to schools, but she said the tax extension proposal should be axed.
“I’m absolutely certain that extending the taxes is not the right way to go,” Conway told KMJ Radio on Tuesday.
“I think it’s false pretenses that we put out that these taxes are necessary,” she said. “I think we can do it and fund what is important to the taxpayers, live within our means for once, and fix the economy. That will grow the pie.”
“State government needs to live within its means,” she said.
Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to release a revised budget on Monday.
Local school districts are crafting budgets based on the presumption that per-pupil cuts will average about $350 next year. But with the $15 billion deficit remaining unsolved, lawmakers are contemplating taking another $4 billion from schools.
That could shoot the per-pupil cut to between $700 and $800, said Wade Roach, chief financial officer of the Cotati-Rohnert Park District.
“Honestly, there would be nothing left in our budget to cut if we went to $700 or $800,” he said. “We are using ($350) as our reality. If we learn something different at the end of this week, we’ll circle the wagons and figure out what we do about it.”
The base per-student funding for 2011-12 school year in Cotati-Rohnert Park is expected to be $4,857 after the $350 is cut out, Roach said.
In the Wright School District, the sizes of primary grade classes depend on the outcome of state budget negotiations, said Superintendent Casey D’Angelo. The district eliminated the equivalent of six full-time positions when they became open from retirements this spring.
To keep kindergarten-through-third-grade classes at an average ratio of 20 students to one teacher, D’Angelo said he would have to hire six new teachers. If state cuts go deeper than $350 per student, those hires won’t be made and class sizes in those grades will likely climb to 24 students per class.
“We obviously can’t wait until August to make that decision,” he said.
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.