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Teachers rally against education budget cuts

Thousands gather at Pershing Square in downtown L.A., speaking out against Schwarzenegger and the L.A. Unified superintendent.

January 30, 2009|Howard Blume and Jason Song

Thousands of teachers and other union members rallied Thursday at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles to oppose state and local cuts to education that are widely expected to result in larger classes for students as well as layoffs and more expensive healthcare.

Most of the rhetoric blistered Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his proposed budget, but speakers also took aim at the Los Angeles Unified School District and schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

"Mr. Cortines, tear down this bureaucracy now," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, in an echo of President Reagan's famous public challenge to unite East Germany and West Germany.

Duffy and other speakers called for stripping bare the district's central office to spare school sites.

The less-experienced teachers at risk of being laid off next fall include 24-year-old Tiffany Francis, a seventh-grade science teacher at Peary Middle School in Gardena, who attended the rally with several friends.

"I just love teaching kids, and I came to fight for our jobs and our students," said Francis, a second-year teacher who, at the moment, has no Plan B if she loses her job. "I just hope I can continue doing what I love to do."

Complicating the budget crisis is stalled contract talks.

To keep the pressure on L.A. Unified, Duffy reiterated his call for teachers to boycott faculty meetings and to refuse to give periodic assessments, which are district-mandated tests to guide teaching.

Duffy and the UTLA leadership have long spoken out against what they see as excessive standardized testing.

The event began at the school district headquarters on Beaudry Avenue, just west of the Harbor Freeway downtown, where Cortines watched from the 24th floor.

Demonstrators then marched to Pershing Square for the rally before marching again to the nearby Reagan State Office Building.

Cortines' staff produced research indicating that students who took all scheduled district assessments performed better on the state's annual tests.

And performance declined as students took fewer assessments, according to the district report.

He said he has made no decision on disciplinary action that teachers could face for refusing to give the tests.

Schwarzenegger's office issued a statement late Thursday in response to the rally.

"The governor has gone to great lengths to protect education from feeling the full effect of the $42-billion state budget deficit," said spokeswoman Camille Anderson.

"But in this national economic downturn, it's necessary that every area of government tighten its belt."

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howard.blume@latimes.com

jason.song@latimes.com

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