Taking it to the streets

Dorien Koene, Rod Kelley Assessment Para, crosses Wren Avenue at

Why am I here? Our future depends on us,

said Jordan West, 8, like she was stating the obvious.
The Rod Kelley Elementary third grader turned and flashed a sign
that read

Save Our Teachers

at passing cars. A student to her left gripped a bright yellow
poster, the words

Class of 2021, Save My Teachers!

written and underlined in black marker.
“Why am I here? Our future depends on us,” said Jordan West, 8, like she was stating the obvious.

The Rod Kelley Elementary third grader turned and flashed a sign that read “Save Our Teachers” at passing cars. A student to her left gripped a bright yellow poster, the words “Class of 2021, Save My Teachers!” written and underlined in black marker.

Around 3:30 p.m. Friday, teachers, students and parents congregated on street corners surrounding the busy intersection of First Street and Wren Avenue to protest state funding cuts, which have manifested locally through staff layoffs and overcrowded classrooms. Without the continuation of temporary tax extensions, which are desperately needed to help sustain minimum state funding for schools, the Gilroy Unified School District is faced with an additional $4 to $5 million loss in their operating budget – on top of the $6.7 million they already had to cut.

The initial $6.7 million cut means a $330 loss in funding per average daily attending student.

Carve out an additional $4 to $5 million, that number jumps to roughly $850.

Right now everything hinges on the May 16 release of Gov. Brown’s budget revision, which may go the route of across-the-board cuts as temporary tax extensions will not go before voters in a special June ballot.

“What do we need?” bellowed Rod Kelley teacher Kim Lozano as she orchestrated chants through a bullhorn.

A chorus of voices replied, “teachers!”

“And when do we need them?” demanded Lozano.

“Now!” the crowd answered.

In the background cars honked as volunteers darted into the streets, handing out fliers that read “STATE OF EMERGENCY” to drivers. The documents included contact information of Senators and Assemblymembers to call and “urge to pass a budget that includes tax extensions to protect schools, colleges and essential public services from further cuts.”

Taking a brief break from the bullhorn, Lozano said she moved to California from Louisiana five years ago and was offered five teaching jobs in one weekend.

“I chose Gilroy Unified, even though it was the worst paying of the five,” she said. “Because I loved the statement I heard from every parent, every teacher and every administrator that ‘children come first.'”

With crippling budget cuts, Lozano said, it’s becoming more and more and more difficult to do just that.

The crisis also puts a strain on teachers who have been affected by the fiscal pinch on a personal level.

Among the turnout was Rebecca Mullen, 30, a fourth grade teacher at Rucker Elementary School whose husband – a fifth grade teacher at Rucker – received a pink slip.

On top of that, Mullen will be shuffled to another school next year due to restructuring.

“Change starts with one person,” she said. “I need to be the change I wish to see in the world.”

GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores, GUSD board president Rhoda Bress and Michelle Nelson, president of the Gilroy Teachers Association were also on hand for the rally.

Flores described the present fiscal climate as the most severe economic crisis GUSD has ever faced, saying an additional $4 to $5 would be “devastating.”

As it is GUSD will already be implementing eight furlough days for staff, five less instructional days for students and upped class sizes, she said.

“We’re cutting to the bone of our educational program.”

Paul Winslow, English teacher at Christopher High School pointed out CHS and Gilroy High School are already running lean, but “the elementary schools just get massacred…it’s a huge mess.”

He did point out high schools took a major hit earlier this week when the board voted to cut an entire working month from the high school registrar position at the end of the year – a crucial time for students who are sending in college transcripts.

Middle schools are feeling the squeeze as well.

“We have one of the oldest sites,” said Greg Camacho-Light, principal of Brownell Middle School. “Today we didn’t have air conditioning.”

Although he resolutely noted Brownell has “made such gains” in the past few years, dealing with class size ratios of 35-to-1 is no walk in the park.

Next year, he added, Brownell will be three to four teachers short but will have 80 to 90 more students.

“We’ll still do better and better,” he said resolutely, standing on the curb, clutching a sign. “But it’s harder and harder.”

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