CONCORD -- Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata again threw down a state budget challenge Monday morning.

Surrounded by about 50 parents, teachers and Democrats on the front lawn of Glenview Middle School, a modest school in a middle-class Concord neighborhood, Perata continued to pressure Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to withdraw $4.4 billion in proposed education cuts from California's K-12 system.

"I'm taking off my (sun)glasses so you can look in my eyes and see if I'm kidding," Perata told the crowd. He was referring to Republican assertions that Democrats are going through the motions in their budget protests. "Democrats will never leave Sacramento as long as the governor intends to cut education by even one dime."

Perata is the face of a Democratic statewide public relations drive to drum up outcry over the governor's proposed 10 percent across-the-board budget cuts in most state programs, including schools.

Democrats say only voters can persuade Republicans in the Legislature to stray from their "no tax hikes" vow and close the $16 billion budget deficit with a mix of cuts and new sources of money. Democrats hold a majority in both legislative houses but they lack the two-thirds majority to approve a budget without Republican support.

"Can we afford to pay more taxes?" Perata said. "No. But do we have to pay more? Yes, and we will."

Education advocates distributed "Classrooms Come First" cards for people to send to business leaders. California firms are lobbying for access to trained foreign workers, Perata said, while the state fails to educate children to fill those jobs.

"What the hell kind of sense does that make?" her asked.

Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, stood with Perata and Natalie Richardson, an eighth-grader circulating an anti-cuts petition, and several teachers who received notices they could be laid off.

Teacher contracts require notification of instructors who could lose their jobs in the next school year. Statewide, 14,000 teachers receives the last week including almost 200 in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Glenbrook has sent such notices to four full-time teachers and may have to lay off three assistant and a campus supervisor.

"I'm so concerned about the future of our students and our teachers and our state," said a tearful Cherie Gan, a first-grade teacher at Ygnacio Valley Elementary School who could be out of work.

Both parties clearly view the huge deficit as an opportunity to leverage reforms, whether it's a restoration of the vehicle license fee that Schwarzenegger axed upon his election or changing spending formulas that don't always reflect the state's economic picture.

While Perata pounded the podium in Concord, Schwarzenegger talked budget reform in Fresno with Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines and Fresno Mayor Alan Autry.

The governor has said the state cannot continue to spend $400 million to $600 million a month more than it takes in and state leaders must reform the automatic spending formulas that outstrip revenues. The state's biggest such formula is Proposition 98, a 1988 voter-approved measure that guarantees a level of education funding except during financial emergencies.

But unlike Republican legislative leaders, who say they will steadfastly oppose tax increases, the governor has said that everything is on the table in upcoming negotiations.

Most years, legislators respond to the governor's May budget proposal - an updated version of the January version -- but Schwarzenegger wants to begin talks now.

"The governor wants lawmakers to come to the table and start negotiating now," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart. "Delaying the budget will only make our problems worse."

Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Read her political news on her blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/insidepolitics. Call her at 925-945-4773 or email her at lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com.