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Hundreds protest teacher pink slips
Supporters honk while passing rally in Manteca
Students came out and waved their signs to passing motorists. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The driver in a SUV pulled up to the Manteca Educators Association group at the start of the “Pink Friday” rally at North Main Street and Louise Avenue.

He was aware of the preliminary layoff notices issued to some 259 teachers in the Manteca Unified School District as part of a $23.5 million shortfall for the 2009-10 budget.

“We’re praying for all of you (teachers),” said the passerby.

The nearly two dozen during the first hour Friday were mostly teachers joined by a few friends and family members. Motorists in the busy intersection honked their horns to show their support.

Monika Mehring was there on behalf of her father, Montee Mehring, who is a teacher at Lincoln School, and his fellow coworkers.
“My dad has always been my role model,” said the Lodi resident.

Sharmaine Mendes is a grandmother to several children attending schools in the district and has family members working as teachers.

“It’s a shame of what’s happening with public education,” she said. “It’s a lack of respect.”

Earlier, educators met at the San Joaquin County Office of Education, blaming the financial woes on petty politics from the state Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It’s not right to balance the budget on the backs of our children,” said Lodi Unified school board President Ken Davis. “It’s not right to balance the budget on the backs of our teachers.”

Rick Wentworth, SJCOE superintendent of schools, noted that the state budget continues to be an ongoing work.

“Even though a state budget has been adopted, it doesn’t mean that schools are whole and, in fact, means that school districts are facing cuts that will affect children in the current year and the near future,” he said.

“We think it is important that the public understands what is going on.”

School districts could be helped out by the upcoming special election.

The May 19 ballot will include capping spending in California, recovering some of the Prop 98 money for education, and earmarking the tobacco tax as a coffer for preschools, to name a few.

“Of those seven issues (affecting education), we’ll support all of them,” Wentworth said. “But we shouldn’t have to depend on the ballot box.”

As it stands, the cuts to the education has put the state towards the dubious ranking of last in the nation in spending per student.

“In California, it’s a race to the finish – to the bottom,” said MEA President Ken Johnson. “We used to be No. 47.”

According to SJCOE, as a way of putting the magnitudes of cuts in perspective, the $11.6 billion in slashed funds is equivalent to that of $49,153 less per classroom – or $19.66 million less per school district – or issuing pink slips to 165,714 teachers or 290,000 custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, and other classified employees, or closing schools for 40 days.
“We’re a people industry,” Wentworth said. “We don’t want to see anyone lose their jobs.

“But right now the revenue is not there to support the structure.”

March 15 is the deadline required by law for districts to issue the preliminary layoff notices or pink slips.

“Since March 15 is a Sunday, today is the deadline date,” said Johnson, who believes that the notices are designed to frighten teachers into accepting a 5 percent pay cut.

Such cuts already accepted by the other unions could save the district about $10 million.

Meanwhile, many locally and across the state wore pink as a way of providing public awareness and to signify the possible losses of those teaching positions.

Lee Tribbey, an East Union High instructor with nearly seven years of service to the district, didn’t wear pink clothing. Instead, he pinned 25 pink posted notes on to his shirt to represent each of the 25 teachers at EU scheduled to receive their preliminary layoff notices.

Many held up signs with messages such as: “Stand Up for Schools,” “Don’t Cut the Classroom,””Stand Up for Schools,” “Cuts Hurt Kids,” and “Cut a Teacher, Hurt a Child.”

Last year, more than 10,000 teachers received pink slips, with nearly 5,000 losing their jobs. This year could be worse.

“And from the way things look, many of the teachers, coaches, counselors and support staff known to our children will no longer be there after this year,” said Claudia Moreno, who is both a mother to a Lincoln Unified youngster and president of California School Employees Association Chapter 821.