I stood in a crowd of four or five hundred red-shirted fellow teachers outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters near downtown LA late this afternoon. Inside the LAUSD Board was debating, and would later vote on a budget plan which called for a 12% teacher pay cut; plus they'd consider tossing in a few furlough dates just for good measure. All totaled, the package, if approved, would amount to just under a 15% pay cut.
There goes cable TV. Christmas gifts to everyone on my list. The photographer at my daughter's upcoming wedding. Hand sanitizer. July, August and September rent. Abbot Kinney pizza. The 3,000 mile oil change. Bully sticks for my dogs Leo and Soni. And the land line.
Hello shaving with run off water. Fasting on Wednesdays. Freecycle.com and RSVPing "no" to everything.
More disappointing than imagining my shrinking paycheck was the Board's lone alternative to the proposed pay cuts. In lieu of a pay cut we teachers could vote to have 5,000 LAUSD employees, including 1,400 of our fellow teachers, canned. Kind of a Sophie's Choice move by the Board. Your money or your colleagues' jobs. You choose.
This year the LAUSD booted 2,000 teachers off its payroll, and the English classes I teach at Venice HS jumped from 27 students per class in 2008 to 37 students per class this year. Another round of teacher cuts and my classes will be so packed they'll be in violation of city fire codes. Oh well.
We few hundred protesters milled around in the cold shouting the same old lame union chants: "Enough is enough. Enough is enough." And the old reliable United Teachers of Los Angeles chant, "U-T-L-A! U-T-L-A!"
Someone with a microphone shouted, "Louder, so they can hear you upstairs!"
Maybe if the 48,000 UTLA members who stayed away from our demonstration had showed up, the people upstairs would have heard our voices. Would have thought twice before threatening our livelihoods, trashing our profession, before threatening to turn a second-rate school district into little more than storage units, holding facilities for the poor. Because that's what the LAUSD is fast becoming.
Check out the LAUSD website and you'll learn that over 90% of its students are non-white and the vast majority of them are poor.
So I don't take the Board's proposed pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs personally. It's not that the Board hates teachers. Heck, I figure they could care less about us one way or the other.
This is a civil rights issue. What the Board is doing, if they impose these cuts, is making sure that LA's poor and working class children don't stand much of a chance when it comes time to compete for college slots. When it comes time for these kids to enter the workforce.
What the Board will insure if they pass these cuts is that the status quo will prevail. They'll make sure the tech schools and the military fill their quotas. Make sure there's another generation of cheap labor. Bus boys, car wash attendants, people who can answer phones, vacuum office floors, deliver pizzas, rake leaves, change diapers, stock shelves and check the oil.
But here's what's really sad. The elected members of the LAUSD School Board, like the student population they oversee, are almost all members of a minority. And these men and women who have risen to a place of status and power can use their status and power to find a way to cut the LAUSD budget without crippling student learning. They could find a way to level the playing field between the haves and have not children of LA. Or they can take the easy path, go with the flow and crush the chances for these kids to get a shot at a meaningful education.
When I came home I learned from the NBC news (www.nbclosangeles.com) that the Board had indeed passed the pay cut/massive layoff measure.
And I could almost imagine our future dropouts lining up for day work outside the Home Depots and Best Buys all over LA for decades to come.
Follow Dennis Danziger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/5ShowsADay