The budget crisis has pushed the Capistrano Unified School District to the edge of a potential explosion.
An estimated 3,880 students didn't show up for school Tuesday in protest of a CUSD decision to impose a permanent 10 percent salary reduction on the district's 2,300 teachers. The elementary schools were the hardest hit by the self-described "sickout", as approximately 3,609 elementary school students skipped class. Roughly 77 middle school students and 194 high schoolers were also absent.
Then, late Tuesday, another 900 students, teachers and parents descended upon the school district's headquarters to further voice their disagreements with the policy decision, according to the Orange County Register. Capistrano is the second largest school district in Orange County, serving approximately 52,000 students. One parent told the Register she had mixed feelings about the "sickout" but felt it was the right thing to do in light of the circumstances at hand.
I was unsettled internally because I feel education is important, and with the looming furlough days and the possible strike (by teachers), my kids are already missing more school than I want them to,” said parent Dagmar Foy, who did not send her two kids to Las Palmas Elementary School in San Clemente on Tuesday.But I talked with my kids about civil disobedience – the civil rights movement and Rosa Parks – and how sometimes you must break the rules to do what’s right.
The show of public support for teachers comes as the teachers' union is slated to vote Thursday on whether to go on strike. CUSD School Board President Anna Bryson told KPCC radio that the district is preparing as if a strike is already a done deal.
We’ll keep the doors open. We have a complete plan in place that will make sure there are teachers in those classrooms. They will have lesson plans and the whole process of educating will go forward.
Union leaders favored a plan calling for a 6.32 percent pay cut, plus larger class sizes that would lead to the layoff of about 70 educators. But the district insisted on a 10 percent cut and refused to budge. This year alone, CUSD faces a budget shortfall of $34 million. Local board trustees say the 10 percent permanent reduction is crucial to salvaging the district's long-term health.
The negotiations over the cuts have been ongoing since June. But on Tuesday, the tensions that simmered underneath boiled over as parents and students overwhelmingly voiced support for the district's teachers. According to the Register, David Song, a junior at one of the area high schools, directly blasted school board members late Tuesday for their role in imposing the cuts:
We're frustrated students, and it does not take much to notice the tension that's created by board and teachers. The only thing we want is a decent education. We want teachers to not be burned out or disgusted, and imposed cuts are the last straw. You offer no rational excuse, just cloudy adult politics. I don't see any rationale in these permanent cuts.
If the union approved a strike, it would be the latest in what appears to be a growing push-back against teacher layoffs.
In Los Angeles, a local judge blocked teachers from striking last May over school district layoffs. A coalition of lawyers have sued the state and the LA Unified School District over the practice, arguing that mass layoffs violate the state's constitutional promise to a quality education.