OAKLAND -- Teachers -- many of whom recently received preliminary layoff notices -- parents and students urged school and political leaders Saturday to stave off staff and budget cuts they say would devastate Oakland's public schools.
At least 150 people packed into the Oakland City Council chamber, with many taking turns to address Assembly members Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, and Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; Oakland Mayor Jean Quan; Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith; and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Sheila Jordan. The forum was organized by the teachers union, the Oakland Education Association.
The school district has notified 657 teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators they might be laid off, preparing for a worst-case budget scenario of losing as much as $900 in state per-student funding, about $30 million.
Smith explained Saturday that about 80 percent of the district's funding comes from the state, and with state budget talks apparently stalemated, the district has no idea how much money it will get.
Skinner said the state's severe deficit is due in large part to a concentration of wealth among a very rich few who are under-taxed now compared to rates paid under Republican governors Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson. The very rich now pay less in taxes than since before the Great Depression, she said, yet are defended by anti-tax activists.
Legislative Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown should stop trying to bargain with the Republican minority and use any necessary means to let voters decide whether to extend current sales, income and vehicle tax rates for five more years, she said.
"If we have to do it ourselves, let's do it ourselves "... and trust that California voters will do the right thing."
Swanson slapped at those who hold workers responsible.
Blaming teachers, unions and public pensions for this crisis is "ludicrous "... I'm sick and tired of blaming the middle class for these problems," Swanson said. "I believe we should've taken to the streets a long time ago."
Quan said Brown's plan to shut down local redevelopment agencies only pits poor people in need of affordable housing against schools. The state instead should look to an oil-severance tax and other new revenues to support public education, she said.
Smith cited President Barack Obama's exhortation about "winning the future" in saying that the nation is "not going to win the future if we lose California." The more diverse the state has become, the less funding has been available for public schools, he said, calling this "one of the clearest examples of structural racism in the United States."
But the district is legally obliged to provide schools for children and his hands are tied, he said. "I apologize for the way we have to do this (layoff) noticing."
Sequoia Elementary first-grade teacher Jackie Roth asked why the district isn't spending at least 55 percent of its educational expenses on teachers' and aides' salaries, as the state Education Code requires.
Smith replied that state-appointed administrators who ran the district from 2003 to 2009 never obeyed that law, and it's taking time to return to that standard.
Swanson, Skinner, Quan, Smith and Jordan all vowed to work for progressive taxes to fund public education and services; increasing charter schools' accountability; holding the state accountable for debt accrued under its stewardship; returning to the 55 percent salary standard; and restoring adequate funding for class-size reduction. Only Jordan balked at vowing to seek forgiveness of the $100 million loan the state gave to the insolvent district in 2003, drawing some catcalls from the crowd.
Not everyone was in lock step. Jean Higgins led about a dozen parents from Think College Now, a Fruitvale District elementary school, in urging the civic leaders to develop creative layoff plans to avoid layoffs by seniority that would more deeply affect certain schools. Teachers in the audience responded with shouts of "No layoffs!" and "Don't pit teachers against teachers!"
But most everyone gave a standing ovation to Nikita Mitchell, 17, an Oakland Technical High School senior who led about 10 students in reminding everyone why they were there.
"The state has fired us from our main job, the job of receiving a quality education," Mitchell said. "And we are angry."