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Protesters decry California budget cuts' effects on students

Hundreds rally in downtown Pershing Square, urging legislators for ballot measures to fund schools. A teachers' union leader is released after his arrest in Sacramento with 25 others.

May 14, 2011|By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times
  • Hundreds of students, teachers and parents gather in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles to protest proposed state budget cuts.
Hundreds of students, teachers and parents gather in Pershing Square in… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Hundreds of teachers, parents and students rallied in Pershing Square on Friday to protest budget cuts and urge legislators for ballot measures to help fund education.

The protest was part of a weeklong series of events around the state intended to draw attention to education funding. Over the past three years, state lawmakers have approved nearly $20 billion in cuts to K-12 schools and public colleges.

On Thursday night, 26 people, including California Teachers Assn. President David Sanchez, were arrested in Sacramento after they refused to leave lawmakers' offices. They were released Friday morning, a union spokeswoman said.

The current proposed budget by Republican state lawmakers did not include further cuts to education but did not include tax extensions that educators say are essential to preserve educational quality. Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to release his updated budget on Monday.

Brown has been pushing to renew $11 billion in expired or expiring taxes.

"If we don't get the extension, then public education in California will die," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, at an afternoon press conference.

Connie Conway (R-Tulare), the Assembly minority leader, said she was sympathetic but that tax increases are not necessary.

"I have a compassion for our classroom teachers but these big union tactics will not sway my opinion," she said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is facing a shortfall of up to $400 million and has issued preliminary layoff notices to almost 7,000 employees.

School district officials agreed to call a shortened day on Friday to accommodate the rally. Teachers had originally planned to protest in the morning, but district officials were concerned that it could interrupt testing and compromise student safety. The time will be made up later in the year.

At the downtown rally, protesters waved signs, chanted and listened as some speakers decried the state of schools today. A group of students from Montebello High School said more than 10 teachers from their campus had been laid off over the past several years while class sizes have grown.

"Sometimes there aren't enough seats for us," said Sally Ching, a 17-year-old senior.

Rohya Prudhomme, an English teacher at Miguel Contreras Learning Center, said in an earlier interview that she had been laid off and rehired repeatedly for three years. She said she was concerned her students would not have quality instructors without increased funding.

"The worst part is not being without pay for two months: It's telling my students that I'm leaving," she said. "The students are my family."

District officials also were concerned that students would walk out of classes during the day, but walkouts were reported from only one school. Students from the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center left campus around 9 a.m. and walked to Pershing Square, accompanied by some school administrators. When the group realized they were early, most students returned to class, according to a district spokeswoman.

jason.song@latimes.com

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