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Schools set to protest cuts

Schools set to protest cuts

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Dozens of Napa Valley Unified School District campuses are scheduled Thursday to protest ongoing state cuts to education, teacher layoffs and growing class sizes.

About 30 minutes before local schools start today, rallies are taking center stage at campuses including El Centro Elementary School, where volunteers are setting up mock classrooms outdoors. The undertaking is a visual representation of growing classrooms in response to state cuts, as the district plans to increase class sizes from 24 to 29 students in lower grades next year.

Thursday’s parent, teacher and public outreach also includes distributing fliers and some people are wearing red in protest of state cuts to education.

Students at Napa Valley College are also joining the statewide protest, said Stephen Otico, a student on the college’s planning committee.

When it comes to Napa Valley Unified School district, at least 40 teacher layoffs are expected before the upcoming academic year.

Corey Morton, who teaches a third- and fourth-grade combination class at El Centro, said Thursday’s demonstrations are meant to spotlight not only impending teacher layoffs, but other budget cut casualties.

Cuts are also to blame for fewer school counselors, reading specialists and other valuable employees throughout the district, Morton said, adding they also mean less money for field trips, school supplies, student interventions and summer school.

Meanwhile, she said, looming teacher layoffs will lead next year to larger combination classes and students will have less one-on-one time with instructors.

“That’s detrimental to some students. ... I want them to be successful and I feel that we’re creating students that can take a test but won’t have the skills to get a job,” she said.

Teachers and others running the rallies will encourage passersby to write to legislators to voice their opinions against cuts to education, even providing lawmakers’ addresses and phone numbers at impromptu writing stations, Morton said.

Pat O’Connor, president of the Napa Valley Educators Association, said today’s rallies are part of a statewide efforts on behalf of the California Teachers Association and other educational agencies. Schools like El Centro, Bel Aire Park Elementary and Silverado Middle School are among dozens districtwide that may have four furlough days next year as the district braces for more cuts.

If finalized, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal would force at least $3 million in cuts to the school district’s general budget of about $117 million.

“Were doing so much and we’re trying to bring up our scores — we’re trying to teach all levels of kids. ... We’re really proud because we’re doing some really (beneficial) programs, but it makes it harder as the money dwindles,” O’Connor said.

Consequences of cuts are not lost on Linda Hansen, a special education teacher at Bel Aire Park Elementary who launched her teaching career almost three decades ago.

“I have taught for 28 years, so I have seen the gamut,” she said. “I’ve been here for the (budget) pendulum swinging.”

She said when district class sizes from kindergarten through the third grade grew about two years ago from 20 to 24, teachers and students felt the impact.

Next year, she said, classrooms of 29 children in lower grades will further compound challenges.

“They’re not going to get that individualized attention and it’s a shame,” she said. “They’re our future.”

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