John Q. Public was probably feeling a bit annoyed this past Tuesday when they heard that Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) teachers were picketing the school board meeting to protest 609 layoff notices that were issued in March. At that very same meeting the school board authorized the district to give teachers in the district what amounts to a 10.4% pay raise over the next two years. I am sure many a taxpayer was probably thinking, “Those teachers! Can’t they ever be satisfied?” I was one of those teachers outside marching around the district offices chanting, “Hey-hey, ho- ho, those RIFs have got to go.”
I was picketing because the board, in issuing those reduction in force notices (RIF), is cutting vital personnel, and program pieces who serve the neediest students in our district.
Sharing the streets with us that day were preschool students and their parents, high school students, and continuing education adult students. Several of them spoke and their stories reminded me of why it was important that we save those 609 positions. Why all the pieces in LAUSD matter.
One of the adult students who spoke shared her story in American Sign Language (ASL). She was born in El Salvador, deaf from birth and not educated until she came here to the United States. When she went to school here, she learned ASL, graduated from high school, and enrolled in college. In college she quickly realized she needed more support to continue her education, and thanks to adult education, she got it. She enrolled in a program which, prepares deaf students (who also happen to be English language learners) to better participate in higher education, and technical programs. Currently, she is earning her cosmetology license and has a sense of where her path is leading.
Another adult student, Juan, spoke about a vocational education program that he is presently enrolled in that partners with a local food manufacturing company. He shared about his background of a being a recovering drug addict, and ex-convict who has now found a sense of purpose in his schooling and a sense of pride. When he addressed the school board he thanked them for funding the program, and reminded them it is serving a vital purpose in lives of many Angelenos.
One of the high school students who spoke, was there to remind us of the critical role counselors play in our secondary schools. This young lady was also from El Salvador and came to the US in middle school. She shared how her middle school counselor ensured she had a homeroom teacher who spoke Spanish her first year in the U.S. Currently in high school, she is in a small learning community (SLC) and working hard so she can attend college. She expressed the importance of her school counselor. In her SLC her counselor has a small caseload compared to other high school counselors, but even so, it’s challenging for her counselor to meet with her. It reminded me of my years as a college counselor at a small parochial high school, and how many of the 100 seniors who made up my case load needed advisement from me. For many students, their teachers and I were the only adults they knew who understood the many steps and pieces necessary just to be able to apply to college.
The only group I haven’t addressed yet are the preschool children. For the last 40 years LAUSD has offered a very successful preschool program called the School Readiness and Language Development Program (SRLDP). Mountains of research are available which conclude that preschool has lasting benefits.
All the pieces matter in a district which serves such a large and diverse community and I can’t imagine letting one of them drop. Even our own current superintendent, Ramon Cortines had this to say in light of the May-Revise Budget about our students, “At L.A. Unified, we educate more than 200,000 kids with special needs, with limited English skills, or who are homeless or part of the foster care system. Almost 80 percent of our students are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches. We have a moral responsibility to provide these impacted students with the tools they need to succeed in life.”
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