The Los Angeles public schools are facing a huge budget deficit. The Board of Education voted Tuesday to cut thousands of jobs over the coming year — everything from teachers to janitors.
Angry teachers, holding picket signs and mock pink slips, chanted outside the doors of the downtown Los Angeles school board offices.
Inside the packed board chambers, fifth-grade teacher Araceli Castro pleaded with school board members not to fire her.
"I've always begun the first day of class telling my students I was once in your seat, I grew up in your community, and I was able to achieve my dreams," Castro said.
"I fear that in consequence of them seeing what is happening to their beloved teacher, they will be afraid to aspire to their own dreams, because they can see how quickly everything can be taken away from them," Castro added.
The school board is facing a nearly $600 million deficit. To close the gap, the school superintendent says the district must lay off 7,000 thousand teachers and staff, increase class sizes and even have schools share principals.
Back in the 1980s, school officials faced similar circumstances when Jackie Goldberg was the school board president.
"Forget about what everybody tells you you have to do," Goldberg said. "There are always other choices. I will regret until the day I die the choices I made 20 years ago."
But Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the audience that the district must face reality — the money just isn't there. Cortines was not able to persuade unions to accept pay cuts and furloughs, which he said would have saved jobs.
"We have had for years declining enrollment and declining revenues, and we have not checked the number of employees and programs that we have been adding, and it has finally caught up with us," Cortines said.
Teachers and union officials demonstrating outside the meeting charged that the school district's bureaucracy is bloated, and that federal stimulus money headed for the Los Angeles Unified School District isn't being used to save enough jobs.
The district is set to get $360 million from the stimulus package. Cortines wants to split that money between this year and next school year, when the budget deficit is projected to hit nearly $800 million.
Teacher's union leader AJ Duffy says all the stimulus money should be used now to avoid laying off a single teacher.
"You don't spread your penicillin out over two years when a patient needs it this year to survive," Duffy said. "If the patient doesn't survive, you won't need it next year. Spend it now."