"This is not just a San Francisco issue," said San Francisco schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia, after unveiling an oversized, mock pink slip to tell the governor he was being laid off. "This is a social justice issue for all our children."
Schwarzenegger has proposed deep cuts in education spending to help balance the budget, a move which state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell told state lawmakers earlier in the day would strip $4.8 billion from schools.
The almost two-hour demonstration was held at the state's Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Building, which houses the California Public Utilities Commission. It is also across from City Hall and within walking distance of the San Francisco school district office where the school board was meeting Tuesday evening.
A handful of uniformed San Francisco police officers watched over the crowd, some with pink balloons from the San Francisco teachers union reading "Save Our Schools" and others with homemade signs. One had an image of Schwarzenegger in jungle camouflage paint and holding a machine gun from his role in "Predator." The words underneath read "Terminate the Terminator," referring to another movie role he is known for. Others held signs asking motorists to honk in support, which many did.
A police sergeant estimated 300 to 400 in attendance, though California Teachers Association spokesman Mike Myslinski said there were at least 1,000. Other rallies have been going on throughout the state. Myslinski said Tuesday's event was timed around the March 15 deadline school districts have to notify teachers they may be laid off next school year. He said 8,000 teachers have been notified so far, with more expected by the deadline.
Speakers at the rally included San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Democratic San Francisco politicians state Sen. Carole Migden, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and Assemblyman Mark Leno. The legislators also criticized their Republican colleagues for remaining opposed to tax increases that the Democrats say are needed to avoid deep cuts.
"Make no mistake, Arnold Schwarzenegger created this fiscal crisis," said Leno, criticizing the governor for repealing the vehicle license fee when he took office.
In a phone interview Tuesday night, a Schwarzenegger spokesman defended the governor's proposal.
"The governor doesn't want to have to make these cuts any more than the parents or students do," said press secretary Aaron McLean. "And that's exactly why we need this budget reform, so schools don't go through this roller coaster of unstable funding year after year."
McLean said the governor has increased K-12 spending by 34 percent since taking office four years ago.
Though Tuesday's rally mostly involved officials from San Francisco, others from the East Bay came out in support.
United Teachers of Richmond President Gail Mendes was the only one from her union to show up; others were headed to an evening meeting with West Contra Costa school officials, one of a series the district is holding with the public to determine where to make cuts.
"They've been cutting for years," Mendes said. "There's no place else to cut in our district."
Performing on a stage set up on the back of a truck was the Angry Tired Teachers Band, consisting of Hayward High teachers playing conga, electric guitar and saxophone. They parodied a number of classic rock songs, changing the lyrics to reflect their cause.
Ginny Zeppa, a first-year San Francisco high school teacher who spent two years in Oakland before that, has received a layoff notice.
"Most of all, it means it doesn't matter if your students need you," the San Francisco resident said. "That's what this budget says to me."
Earlier in the day, O'Connell told the state Assembly Education Finance budget subcommittee that this is the time to add money to education and that the main goal is to narrow the achievement gap between minority students, English learners, poor students and those with disabilities. He said the state is 46th in per-pupil spending. He called the governor's proposal "a mammoth step backward."
In a phone interview afterward, O'Connell said he believes the demonstrations are having an effect.
"I think they get it; certainly the Democrats do," said O'Connell, a Democrat. He said the rallies are attracting publicity on the issue and also drawing new organizers.
"It puts a face on these issues," he said.