Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parents March and Protest in Salida as Board Makes Plan to Close

View video and more pictures here.

SALIDA -- Superintendent Doug Baughn resigned unexpectedly Tuesday as school district leaders struggled with $3.25 million in budget cuts and the possibility of closing an elementary school.

About 200 people attended Tuesday night's Salida Union School District Board of Education meeting expecting to see elected trustees vote to close one of two elementary schools.

Instead they sat silent and shocked as board President Ivan Wyeth II announced Baughn's resignation, which took effect Tuesday. Assistant Superintendent Twila Tosh was appointed interim superintendent, and she read a statement from Baughn.

In it, he expressed appreciation for his time serving students and staff. He did not attend the meeting. He declined to comment further in a phone call.

Baughn, 52, was in his second year as Salida Union's top executive. He had worked as its assistant superintendent for three years before that.

His departure punctuated an emotional few months for the Salida school community. In November, administrators discovered an accounting error that leaves the district $760,000 short this school year. A business office employee has been on leave since that finding.

That shortage, combined with cuts in education funding, from the state means Salida Union needs to trim at least $3.25 million from next year's budget.

Parents, staff and others in the community have expressed anger at trustees and district administrators for not properly overseeing the district's finances. A handful of parents protested outside the district office Tuesday.

"We need to make some changes, and the changes need to start at the top on down," said one parent who attended the board meeting. Her remarks drew applause from the audience.

"It needs to go further than (Doug Baughn)," she said. "We need to know why it has come to this. Why do our children have to sacrifice a school, if the sacrifice is in vain?"

Wyeth wouldn't go into detail about Baughn's departure. Tosh could negotiate a salary increase for her extra duties, he said. She was serving as the district's assistant superintendent of education and student services.

Wyeth said trustees eventually will search for a superintendent but are concentrating on the district's financial woes first.

"We need to get through the process," he said. "We need to make the appropriate (budget-cutting) decisions with the students in mind."

A few in the audience spoke during Tuesday's meeting, encouraging trustees and administrators to do just that -- keep cuts away from students. That means keeping class sizes small, continuing a basic music program and cutting pay for administrators, speakers said.

Trustees approved a budget plan for the next school year that includes employee and manager salary cuts and the closure of an unspecified school. Trustees said they might be able to avoid shutting a campus if the district can negotiate a package of unpaid furlough days and salary reductions with employee bargaining groups.

Closing a school could save about $323,000, according to estimates. On the other hand, each one-day furlough and 1 percent pay cut for all employees would save about $240,000.

But to meet the state-mandated March 15 deadline for notifying some employees they could be laid off next school year, the staff plans to assume that a school will be closed. Layoff notices can be rescinded, Tosh said.

A budget advisory committee has studied shutting down Salida Elementary or Mildred Perkins Elementary. Trustee Gary Dew asked the staff to set up a board workshop to discuss what criteria would be used to determine which school should be closed.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Youth Intimidated by MJC Security

Today while engaged in passing out fliers at Modesto Junior College for the campus' first-ever General Assembly for Students, Faculty, and Staff to talk about the Budget Cuts and the International Day of Action for Education on March 4th, a youth was approached by several security guards (failing to identify themselves as such), who then proceeded to question the youth about their intentions, what the fliers said, etc. The primary guard eventually threatened the student: Ok [name withheld], now I know what you look like, and if I ever see you here again I'm going to arrest you."

An observer was told by security that the administration would not allow the general assembly to happen, as it wasn't sanctioned. They then asked one of the security guards: "Well what about you guys? Aren't you facing budget cuts too?"
"Yea, I mean some of us might get fired," the guard offered.
"Well, then maybe you should consider coming out to this meeting. You should also think about how much harder it's going to be to change your own situation if you keep messing with people in the same boat who are doing something."
The guard looked at the ground.

The message from the administration is clear: they are scared. They want to intimidate us, they do not want us getting together to talk about our shared conditions, they do not want us to organize together. They will go so far as to threaten teenagers with arrest for passing out simple fliers. When Students, Faculty, and Staff join together, we wield a power which the administration can never match.

If you are the victim of intimidation by the administration or security, do not talk to cops! Tell your story to comrades! Our best response to this is to spread the information widely so we all know what to expect.

To the security guards of JC and elsewhere we offer that you have the option of playing the snitch, the rat, the guard dog, or the option of bettering your position through collective action with the rest of us. It is only through creation an untenable, out-of-control situation for the administration and their bosses that we can gain anything from them. We must take power into our own hands if we are to gain any concessions from them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dismantle Bureaucracy - Not Education!

Download PDF here.

Across Stanislaus County - and the state of California, School Boards are laying off teachers, shutting down schools, and placing workers on furlough (unpaid) work days. In Salida, the School Board is considering shutting down Salida Elementary school, laying off teachers, and possibly placing them on furlough days. Workers at Modesto City Schools are facing a round of layoffs, and since March 3rd of 2009, the District has OKed $11.3 million in education cuts, despite internal and public protest. Meanwhile, 50 positions at the Sylvan Union School District that are also up on the chopping block while in Atwater, up to 30 teachers have been laid off in recent months. In Empire, Teel Middle School was closed down in 2009, which was home to 542 students. Also, substitutes, councilors, custodians, yard duties and others all are having a harder and harder time finding work - if they can manage to keep their jobs at all.

Why These Cuts?

As Classified Employee's Union President Aaron Castro commented, over the last few years at the Modesto City School District, 4,000 fewer students have been enrolled, however 22 more managers have been employed. Thus, while student enrollment has actually been declining, those at the top have still found it in their hearts to keep raking in the cash. But it's not just the rich locally looking out for themselves, but the desire of those in power in Sacramento to completely dismantle public education. In his State of the State address, Gov. Schwarzenegger promised he would not cut funding for public education, however, days later, he released his budget proposal containing $2 billion in cuts and plans to outsource classified employee jobs. Schwarzenegger is resurrecting his call to slash state funding for school transportation proposing to cut $300 million by out-sourcing classified employee jobs to private companies. These attacks on public education mirror the same attacks that are happening to higher education across the state, as CSUs and UCs have faced a 32% fee increase this year, hundreds of faculty have been laid off, and classes on multiple campuses have been cut. At Modesto Junior College, 180 classes have been cut, while student fees have gone up by 33%. At CSU Stanislaus, more faculty have been laid off than any other campus, while fee costs have gone up 32%.

Meanwhile, last year Stanislaus County was awarded $18 million for a new 60-bed Youth Detention Camp, while four other valley counties were given a total of $30 for similar prisons. Likewise, in places like Livingston in late 2007, police were awarded a grant by the state to put in a $112,339 high resolution surveillance system in the local high school of only 1,150 students. As Dan Walters commented in the Sacramento Bee, "[Prison cost] has jumped from less than $5 billion a year to more than $10 billion in the last decade, over twice as fast as school spending, the biggest budget item. It now costs about $45,000 a year to feed, clothe and medicate each of the state’s 170,000-plus inmates, or roughly five times what taxpayers spend on a typical public school student. And that doesn’t count what it costs to supervise tens of thousands of parolees."

Who Pays - Who Gains?

Those who will be firstly and greatly affected by these cuts are school children, as many will be faced with every increasing sized classrooms taught by overworked and underpaid teachers. Staff will also be overworked and underpaid, leading to more and more derelict and run down campuses, while teachers themselves will find it harder and harder to engage with students in any meaningful way. Furthermore, if students do decide to enter into college, they will find it harder and harder to do so, as the cost of higher education increases at both Junior Colleges, California State Universities, and University of California campuses. What will it mean to live in a society that has more interest in locking us up than education? In a nutshell, children of working and poor families will face the brunt of this assault; an assault that will not end with K-12.

These attacks on our living standards effect us all, as out of work staff and teachers struggle to pay their bills and home payments and slip into foreclosure. As one poster on the Modesto Bee website stated, "[M]y husband is [a school employee] and has been for 11 years. After 11 years of dedication to the children of Salida, he will be laid off. He has absolutely nothing to do with the finances and yet he and 15 other teachers will pay for these errors in very big ways. We could lose our home. Our son is going to college next year and we can't help him if my husband is unemployed. Due to health issues, I am only partially employed normally, but I was laid off this year due to program elimination. I just want someone to find answers other than repeatedly laying off teachers. This country gives great lip service to how important education is, but then they want to pack 30 children in a classroom. I truely fear for our future."

Those who seek to profit from this crisis have the most to gain - those in power and the heads of corporations which can provide cheap labor for outsourced workers that the budget cuts will displace. This works also in the governments favor, because it decreases the power of organized labor as a whole, and makes it much easier for the state government to push working people around.

Strike, Occupy, Takeover!

Since 2009, there have been ongoing protests and demonstrations at school board meetings - calling for an end to layoffs and school closures. Another tactic that people have employed in Stanislaus County is the packing of meeting spaces over capacity, so that fire department officials are forced to close the meetings down, thus delaying the decision at hand. But, our tactics need to move from just prolonging these decisions and begging those in power not to carry them out, to actually going on the offensive. In Britain during the middle of 2009, community members and concerned parents occupied their elementary schools when the Labor Party threatened to close them down. The two schools, Wyndford and St Gregory’s were both occupied by up to 20 parents, families and supporters at the start of the Easter holidays. Parents slept in the sports halls of both schools, and mounted a determined campaign to keep the other threatened institutions open. Under the “Save Our Schools” umbrella group, parents across the city have mounted a series of demonstrations, events and press conferences. One occupier commented: "Everybody has supported us. Shops have been handing in rolls, crisps and juice in morning." Again at the start of 2010, five parents barricaded themselves inside the school until their demands were met. This is only one exciting example of parents, students, and workers overcoming their divisions and coming together to better themselves. Elsewhere, such as in Greece, students in High Schools and Universities have also continuously occupied their schools against cuts to education. In California, students at community colleges, CSUs, and UC, have also launched a movement that has employed the occupation of campus buildings as a way to stop attacks on public education. Across the world, these actions have often been effective - not only in stopping the closure of certain schools, but also in bringing people together.

March 4th

On March 4th, there will be actions happening throughout California in response to attacks on public education. As workers are laid off, teachers are fired, classes are cut, and students are herded into more and more overcrowded class rooms - we have to stand together and fight. Different actions are being planned for different cities - and demonstrations are being called for at Modesto Junior College (MJC) and California State University Stanislaus (CSUS). In other cities, teachers are going on strike on this day in response to layoffs and cuts to schools. Now is the time to organize with other parents, staff, faculty, and students - for our schools and our educations. Hold protests and demonstrations, calling for an end to the attacks on education. Disrupt school board meetings, don't let the bureaucrats sign away our futures! Strike and walkout, shut the school down! Occupy, take our schools back until our demands are met! No layoffs, no furloughs, no school closures, no bigger classroom sizes!

Dismantle Bureaucracy - Not Education!

School Closure Occupation Guide

From Save Our Schools (UK)

How to Save your School From Closure
Based on lessons learned from two rounds of Glasgow school closure campaigns

If your school is selected for possible closure, you have a short window to have it saved. Often the Council lists a whole pile of schools for closure – painting as grim a picture as possible, knowing that it will back down on a few of the schools, so making the ultimate closure list seem more reasonable. The schools which put up the toughest fight are the ones that get taken off the closure list, so make sure yours puts up the toughest fight of all, and it should be safe. You have to move quick before the final council vote on closure – after that it is very difficult to get the decision reversed.

1) Occupation

The only sure-fire way to win is to mount an all out occupation of the school buildings. That involves a group of parents going into the school at closing time and then staying in overnight. Fear of negative publicity means councillors tend not to order police to clear buildings with force – so there is very low risk of that happening – instead they sit and wait out the occupation.

Most occupations are symbolic one night long occupations, which can be very good for a newspaper story, but won’t achieve much else.

A real long running occupation needs a shift rota of occupiers, helpers to bring in tea and food, someone outside to co-ordinate with media, politicians and authorities.

These are not easy things to take on. Don’t start them going until you’ve thought out the consequences and planned out the number of active campaigners required. Too few people means exhaustion and burn out for those carrying out the occupation, with risk of causing long term issues including even family break up – not something you want coming out of a school closure campaign! But if there is really enough of you, and you are all determined enough to see it through, then occupation is the way to win.

If you are going to mount an occupation, it normally has to be done before the councillors have had their final council vote on closure – so during and shortly after the ‘consultation’ period. It’s relatively easy to get councillors to take one or two real high profile campaigning schools off the closure list at that point, but very hard to get the decision reversed once it has been formally made.

2) Politics

School closures are political decisions, not official decisions. They are made by politicians, not by officials. Politicians love to try to divert blame to their hapless officials, but that is a game and a trap to divert activist time from the real target. In particular, the sham consultations on school closure (only played out because there is a legal obligation to make a pretence of consultation) are fronted by utterly powerless council officials. Don’t waste your time chasing the Director of Education and his or her assistants. Some officials are paid very highly for acting as the front men to divert pressure from the politicians, and some are good at keeping up the pretence, so always remember to not be fooled and keep after the real target.

Also be aware of which politicians are involved. In the case of the Edinburgh school closures only 29 politicians are involved. Those are the 17 Liberal and 12 SNP Councillors, who together form the administration. All other politicians - MSPs; MPs; Scottish Executive Cabinet Secretaries for Education (and yes even though by coincidence she is an Edinburgh MSP); British Government Ministers; Party Leaders; and so on – all have no involvement in the decision. Remember: precisely 29 men and women have the power to reverse this decision, everybody else in the world without exception is not involved.

However when dealing in politics, allies are always useful. Shun no one (excepting, god forbid, if any organised religious sectarians or racists should appear) – from the far left through to members of the Labour and Conservative parties. The more political people onside, the more pressure can be brought to bear. Elected politicians are scared of losing votes to rivals – so play on that fear. And activists within the political parties that are closing the schools can make useful allies – they can lobby internally and bring up awkward motions and questions.

Political allies are allies only though, not leaders. It’s your campaign, not theirs. You’re here to save the school, not drum up votes and members for them. Use them, but don’t be used by them.

3) Media

Journalists are short of time so prefer it if you can write the story for them as much as possible. Keep press releases short – in newspaper article style so journalists can pull out sentences for quotes. Include mobile phone contact details for more information, offer interviews with parents and pupils. Email press releases out and follow up with a phone call. If one journalist, it is worthwhile calling and emailing them direct for future stories.

4) Nicey-nicey

The nicey-nicey stuff – letters, petitions, consultation meetings – is generally a waste of time on its own. The legally proscribed consultation meetings in particular should be ignored, except where they can serve as an opportunity to involve more people in the campaign. The consultation meetings are run by a minor council official, who will report nothing back to superiors or politicians, and are designed only to help let off steam from parents and locals. Discourage people from attending them, except to use the opportunity to advertise the next active campaign tactic to the audience.

The legal route to halting school closures is normally also a waste of time and a diversion from effective tactics. It involves petitioning the Court of Session for Judicial Review of the closure. It has to be argued on a point of law – where the Council has not correctly followed the consultation procedures demanded by legislation. Normally this means nit picking over miniscule discrepancies (not timely enough notification, insufficient information provided, too few notices sent out) which, unless of hugely enormous scale, are unlikely to persuade unelected judges to over-rule a decision of elected councillors. Legal Aid will not normally be granted for the main part of the case, and raising funds for this unaided is such an enormous task that it will divert time away from effective campaigning. Legal Aid for the initial part – the first consultations with lawyers – is often granted, but that is ultimately no use except to the lawyers involved.

5) Nasty-nasty

Fight tough. Closing a school saves serious money. And selling school land off for private housing development is worth millions. No one is going to walk away from deals like that unless you give them a very good reason. Remember: they (the 29 councillors or whatever) are damaging your child’s education and happiness for financial gain.

Visit the councillors surgeries with delegations. Talk to their family and friends. Lobby, demonstrate, protest. They are making your families life uncomfortable – so repay the complement. You’re not in this to make friends, you’re in it to win.

6) If you lose.

Sadly, it sometimes happens – despite all your work, the school gets closed anyway.

Think that, as long as you gave it your best shot, there’s no disgrace in losing. You can’t win them all. Just as long as you make sure you win the next fight, then you won’t let the bastards get you down.

Children are, thank God, remarkably resilient and can bounce back from the trauma of a school closure with a speed that amazes us adults. They will need you to be there for them during the messy transition phase, of a few months or so. They don’t need you to be wallowing in despair at your defeat, or cutting them out of your life because the campaign itself has taken over. At the end point (though, please, not before), try and make sure you get your kids into a decent substitute school. In Scotland, switching religious schooling can often help – there may be a local school of the opposite religion left unclosed which would be better than crossing territorial lines. And be prepared to teach them yourself for a year or so to ease them over the adjustment to the new schools staging and levels.

7) Our time will come

School closure issues like this show the lack of democracy in our current political and community life. Large scale distant city governments elected every four years do not and cannot properly reflect the wishes of citizens. In the Edinburgh case, the closures are happening right after an election – but the parties responsible said nothing about this during the election, so citizens were not consulted. And it’s a long four year wait for the next election, by which time new issues have appeared anyway.

In an ideal world, local community neighbourhood councils would run the local schools, and they would only make major decisions from discussion and direct vote at a mass public meeting. That way, schools would be closed or opened only when a majority of local people wanted it. That may seem radical – until it is remembered that it is our tax money that is paying for the whole structure.

Both the SNP’s and (especially) the Liberal Democrat’s 2007 manifestos talk big about extending power to local ward area committees and community councils, in ways that would be a major step towards my ideal political structure. Local area committees and community councils are almost entirely powerless at the moment. But both those parties are better at talking about this than actually doing it. Because once politicians taste power, they become very reluctant to hand it away – unless forced to by public action. For that matter, both manifestos also come out against school closures. (The relevant excepts of the two manifestos are included as an appendix. They make ironic reading in light of the current closures in Edinburgh).

In an ideal world, parents should have sufficient free time off work to help raise their own children without relying solely on long school days and out of hours childcare. Childhood would become more a time of happiness, freedom, and play than of forced classroom attendance. Education would aim to develop rounded human beings more than drilling children for future service in a soulless labour market.

Someday I hope these things will be achieved. But in the meantime we are stuck with state schooling for our kids, and the job market we have, and it is up to us to make sure it is the best we can get for them. No one else is going to fight on their behalf.

Email: praxis.glasgow [at]
Mobile: 07966 930 728

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Modesto City and Sylvan Union Faces Cuts, Layoffs, and Closures

From Modesto Bee on Monday and Wednesday

At a recent Modesto City School Board meeting, big wigs make plans to lay off people and close down schools.
Union leaders called the reorganization a shell game, saying the estimated $2.3 million in savings first presented in January was misleading because many positions were vacant or being paid through different funds. The tweaked plan presented Monday would save about $2 million, according to the district.

Nine of the 38 positions up for elimination are vacant. The plan would create eight positions.

Barney Hale of the Modesto Teachers Association took issue with some of the numbers, saying officials should only count new savings, which he estimated at $1.2 million. Hale said almost twice as much should be slashed from administration.

"I think you need to pass this proposal, but it doesn't go far enough," Hale told trustees.

Flores agreed with Hale, saying he plans on further cuts.

Leaders from the district's classified employees union urged trustees to reject the proposal, also saying the plan doesn't trim enough from the district office, which has the least direct impact on students.

At Sylvan Union School District, the song is also the same, with bureaucrats looking to cut up to 50 positions.
The Sylvan Union Board of Education on Tuesday night approved a plan to lay off 50 employees for the next school year.

In an effort to slash spending by $5 million, Modesto's second-largest school district will increase class sizes and lay off 36 elementary teachers.

Other layoffs include two music teachers, two art teachers, the district's last elementary school librarian, two counselors, the last elementary vice principal, four instructional facilitators and two resource specialists.

Known as certificated employees, they must be notified by March 15 that they may be laid off for next school year. Actual layoff notices go out in May. Classified employees, such as bus drivers and secretaries, can be laid off as late as this summer.

Over the next several weeks, other districts will follow suit, sending out notices of possible layoffs to teachers, counselors and managers by March to cut costs for the third consecutive year.

With about 50 people in the audience, two parents spoke at Tuesday's meeting, one urging trustees to communicate more with the public and keep small class sizes.

"By having 32 students per class in (kindergarten through third grade), I believe we're setting our kids up for failure," said Tina Hansen, a Crossroads Elementary parent. "My priority is keeping teachers sane in their classrooms and letting them reach all their students, and they can't do that with 32 kids."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Central Valley Miwok Tribe Legal Update

From Modesto Anarcho:

Central Valley Miwok Tribe's Occupation: Oral Argument held today in San Diego. State attorneys "ass-puppets of the BIA."State Appellate Judges sided with Tribe's Attorney during oral argument. Judges attacked state attorneys the entire time. Looks very good. Should have final decision within 30 days, but right now everything's going in the right direction. Occupy Everything!

For more on the Miwok Occupation in Stockton, see this article.

Monday, February 8, 2010

200 Protest School Shutdown in Salida


SALIDA -- Pepé Le Pew made an appearance at Tuesday's board of education meeting.
The mascot-sized skunk paced back and forth, carrying signs reading "Something stinks at the Salida School District" and occasionally pinching his nose.
Pepé joined about 200 students, parents, district staff and community members to protest the closing of one of five Salida Union School District campuses.

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