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California Education Service Workers Will Take 'Midnight Ride' To Sacramento

California Teacher Protest

First Posted: 06/06/11 10:10 AM ET Updated: 08/06/11 06:12 AM ET

Barbara Torres says she was a "troubled child" growing up in the Los Angeles public school system.

But, at age 14, an administrator gave her a chance, setting her up with work as a student aide. Torres has remained an employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District for the past 16 years. She works as a special education assistant, helping children with autism adapt to mainstream classrooms.

With the financial stresses on education, though, she worries that the next troubled child to come through LAUSD's public schools may not be quite so lucky.

"Kids have issues but we can work through them, they can graduate. You just have to have that push," Torres told The Huffington Post. "We're overworked, morale is low, there are furloughs and there are pay cuts. We all have to do extra. It's hard on us but it's even harder on the kids. What if those kids don't have that somebody like I did?"

Torres says that's why she plans to join about 100 other education service workers, from cafeteria servers to bus drivers to custodians, of SEIU Local 99 at midnight. They'll hop on a bus in Los Angeles, planning to reach Sacramento by 7:30 Tuesday morning. There, they'll give legislators a piece of their minds about Governor Jerry Brown's budget.

They'll meet with their state representatives, urging them to greenlight Brown's proposal to extend temporary tax increases and to repay schools owed money under Proposition 98, a 1988 law that requires that a certain percentage of California's budget be spent on education. According to SEIU Local 99, Brown's May budget proposal would spend almost half of the $6.6 billion in increased state revenue on education. If legislators instead chose to cut taxes, the union says, they would cause about $5 billion in education funding cuts.

Though the midnight ride is but one instance of rallying for education spending around the country. Over the weekend, protestors in Wisconsin kicked off a slew of actions by erecting a tent city called Walkerville in honor of the governor, his budget and his plan to scrap collective bargaining for public workers. The rallies kicked off Sunday and featured speeches from education professionals.

On Saturday, hundreds marched on Milwaukee to protest education cuts. Also on Saturday, North Carolina Democrats staged a funeral march to protest what they called the "death of public education."

The midnight ride comes after the California Teachers Association organized a State of Emergency Week of protests in Sacramento in May.

SEIU Local 99, a union for school service workers, is clear that its constituency is different.

"Our students need better schools and funding," said Blanca Gallegos, a spokesperson for the union. "We're on the same message as the teachers, but we're trying to highlight the role that the classified employees play as part of the education team. You need to fund the entire team."

Larry Sand, who runs the California Teachers Empowerment Network, says he is skeptical of actions like the midnight ride.

"They [the CTA] had the whole State of Emergency week," he said. "If that didn't do it, I don't know what a bunch of SEIU people taking a midnight ride to Sacramento is going to do." There are Republican holdouts to SEIU's policy agenda, Sand said, that are unlikely to be flipped by the visit.

Still, Gallegos believes the trip can make a difference. "It gets legislators to listen one-on-one," she said. "These are not just numbers, but they're real people, real faces, real families."

The school system is already stressed, she said. "Some of the largest cuts were to the custodial staff. We've seen bathrooms that are not cleaned as often," she said.

Gamaliel Andrade, a Los Angeles cafeteria worker, has noticed as well.

"This trip is important to me because some people are trying to blame the education deficit on cafeteria workers' health insurance," he said. "They're trying to put blame on a working-class guy like me, but I'm just trying to make a difference in people's lives."

He said he opposes next school year's proposed furlough days, but is still giving up his wages on Tuesday to protest. "My goal is awareness," he said. "We want people to know it all matters."

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