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California's budget crisis is also hitting the public schools hard. Thousands of teachers across the state are getting laid off, and classes are being canceled or cut back. In Los Angeles, the board of education agreed to slash nearly $1.6 billion over the next three years.
We have more from NPR's Carrie Kahn.
CARRIE KAHN: Teachers, janitors, clerks and parents packed the Los Angeles School Board auditorium yesterday and begged board members not to make the cuts. As many as 2,000 non-teachers are being laid off. Melissa Marshall is a special education assistant.
Ms. MELISSA MARSHALL (Special Education Assistant): Our schools need us. We clean the restrooms, we prepare the lunches, run afterschool programs and we drive the school buses. And we are sincerely the heart and the soul of our schools.
KAHN: More 2,500 teachers won't be coming back, either. That means class sizes are going up from 20 to 24 kids in the elementary grades to as many as 43 students per teacher in high school, says union Vice President Julie Washington.
Ms. JULIE WASHINGTON (Vice President, Teacher's Union): How can you expect an 11th grade English teacher to adequately prepare 43 students per class to get ready for college? How can you expect counselors already on overload to adequately counsel an additional 150 students?
KAHN: After more than two hours of public pleading, chastising and several outbursts from the crowd, the school board members spoke. One said she felt sick to her stomach. All complained about lawmakers raiding education funds to try and close the state's $24 billion budget deficit while requiring them to pass balanced budgets for the next three years.
Board member Julie Korenstein says the state's financial woes get worse every day, making it impossible to plan three years out.
Ms. JULIE KORENSTEIN (Board Member, Los Angeles Unified School Board): So the revenue system in the state of California for public education has to be fixed, because if it continues to go down the road that it's going down, public education is going to cease to exist in this state.
KAHN: Only Korenstein and one other member voted against the proposed cuts. Superintendent Ramon Cortines says if no other revenue sources are found, the cuts in the coming years will be like nothing he's ever seen in public education. No more full-day kindergarten, half the school nurses let go, and no arts or music programs in the elementary grades.
Mr. RAMON CORTINES (Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District): We will have to reduce critical programs all across the district. But I believe that if we come together, that we can make a difference.
KAHN: Cortines says he will push for a parcel tax for city schools and, as he has been doing for the past several months, keep urging union officials to accept pay cuts of furloughs.
Outside the school board auditorium, the street was relatively quiet compared to weeks of raucous rallies and demonstrations. Teachers Union Secretary Betty Forrester says the district is not managing its $7 billion annual budget responsibly.
Ms. BETTY FORRESTER (Secretary, Teachers Union): They've not given us anything except that they want us to take cuts. And when the superintendent says that unions have not proposed ways to use the money, that's false.
KAHN: The union says the district should use all of the more than half a billion dollars of federal stimulus money now instead of saving some for next year. And critics say the district should dip into its emergency funds.
Ms. JUDITH QUATEMUCH(ph): They're saving the money for a rainy day, but today it's raining. Today, it's raining.
KAHN: It was actually pretty sunny, which is lucky for Judith Quatemuch and two other parents who have set up tents and launched a hunger strike in front of the district headquarters.
Ms. QUATEMUCH: It's ridiculous that California, the 8th economy in the world, doesn't have education nor resources for the children. The future is even worse.
KAHN: Quatemuch and the other strikers say they will stay on the sidewalk until the board fixes the situation.
Kerry Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.
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