Two dozen Burbank Unified teachers — many toting laptops and stacks of papers — crowded the food court at the Burbank Town Center on Wednesday for a “grade-in,” meant to draw attention to ongoing budget cuts to public education.
“Even though we are a wealthier district than some other areas, we are still up against really deep cuts,” said Lori Adams, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn. “This year is going to be bad, and if it continues down this road, nobody is going to be solvent anymore.”
The event coincided with the Day of the Teacher, an annual recognition of educators. It was also staged in concert with a week of demonstrations spearheaded by the California Teachers Assn. and its local affiliates in communities throughout the state. The week will culminate Friday afternoon with a rally at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles.
Much of the union’s focus has been on getting legislators to extend existing tax hikes to avoid another round of severe cuts. Public schools have lost $18 billion in funding since the 2008-09 school year, according to the California Teachers Assn. And some 30,000 educators and 10,000 school staff members have been laid off during the last three years.
Burroughs High School English teacher Diana Abasta was among those who traveled to Sacramento this week to lobby legislators to increase funding to public education.
“If kids were a gross national product, how much would they be worth?” Abasta asked. “Would you put a price tag on them? Well, California … what do they give us? Less than what it costs to house an inmate, so that is how much a child’s education is worth.”
Teachers often buy school supplies and pay for professional development opportunities out of their own pocket to help fill funding gaps, said Jerry Mullady, who also teaches at Burroughs.
And while teachers didn’t cause the economic recession or the subsequent state budget crisis, they are subject to much of the finger pointing, he said.
“There is a lot of false information out there too, like about our pensions and what a teachers union does,” Mullady said. “The first thing they say is ‘[Unions] protect bad teachers, and they don’t care about students.’ That is so far from the truth. We promote students all the time.”
Others also said they felt that their profession, and their union, is under attack.
Abasta said she’s tired of apologizing for being a teacher, pointing to her 29-year career, 16 of them at Burbank Unified.
“I went to school. I studied to become a teacher. It wasn’t an afterthought,” Abasta said.
The Burbank teachers union has been asked to accept concessions that include a permanent class-size increase of 31 students to one teacher as it negotiates a new contract with the district, Adams said.
But increasing class sizes won’t just equal more bodies in a room, she said. It will mean more copies to run off, more assignments to grade and more parents to interact with.
Muir Middle School teacher Brad Frank said teachers have already been forced to absorb a lot, including furlough days and cuts to benefits.
But he and others continue to perform to the best of their ability, even as they have to seek out second jobs, Frank said.
“Teachers are hard-working, devoted people,” he said.