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Groups rally for education
School staff and students rallied Thursday in a series of actions across Arizona and California to raise awareness of cutbacks to education with the intent of influencing legislators who control public coffers.
March4Schools in Arizona and Stand Up for Schools in California are rally organizations that coordinated efforts to oppose further reductions.
As part of 38 other information rallies in this state, Arizona Education Association welcomed to the Gary Knox School, Cindy Didway, Crane Elementary School District superintendent.
Citing a $700 million state deficit this year and a $3 billion one next, educators must recognize these are tough times, Didway said. And though some states are starting to see a recovery, the next two years will be difficult for Arizona, she added.
She said the significant impact of the loss of the Career Ladder program because of lawsuit proving the Legislature only expanded the program to 28 districts while 209 went without.
The loss of Career Ladder means teachers losing between $500 and $9,000 per year. Career Ladder is a pay incentive program for teachers who complete professional development and achieve targeted academic goals.
The state also cut from Crane $925,000 in soft capital funds that cover text and computers. And because enrollment is down again this year, they receive less state aid as well, Didway said.
Despite the hardships, Crane continues to achieve academically, doing more with less, she said. And, she noted, as helpful as the one cent sales tax ballot measure in the May election will be if it passes, it will still not be enough to balance the budget.
Didway said she was thankful for the county's legislative representatives who have shown dedicated support of education but unfortunately are not in the majority.
Rep. Lynne Pancrazi, D-Yuma, said she supports the passage of the one cent sales tax but Arizona still needs to find stable funding sources. She suggested the state is losing out on revenue enhancement by not having used car sales tax between private parties or Internet sales taxes. She added she will vote no for any further cuts to services.
"Cuts have made an impact not only on education but health care and public safety. We've lost school resource officers who have made a positive impact on the attitude of children at school."
Chris Maza, president of the Paradise Education Association, told the Knox audience that there is an equal amount of tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in Arizona as there are cuts for schools.
"I think there is a point when the state needs to assume responsibility to fund public services, which includes education."
Over at San Pasqual Unified School District in Winterhaven, nearly the entire student population of the high school marched to district offices carrying banners in support of programs and staffing levels. Gina Hanna, San Pasqual civics teacher and student council adviser, said she was really proud of the students.
"This started as a conversation with student council leaders. I shared the seriousness of education cuts from information I got from the Internet."
During the previous two years, California cut $17 billion from education while 16,000 teachers have been laid off, Hanna noted. She added she is especially concerned for one of her top students who applied to UCLA. She is now on a waiting list and may lose financial assistance if processing of her application is delayed and therefore may opt for a second choice school.
But David Schoneman, superintendent, noted there have been no layoffs at the district and are actually looking at increasing activities with the aim of raising their average daily attendance, which would increase school revenues.
Meanwhile there have been no cuts to student services, he noted. And through attrition, the district expects to realize savings by filling openings with existing part-time staff. And San Pasqual is looking at improving financial support through an aggressive grant writing campaign they hope to start this spring.
Alayan Jones, 17, a representative of the Associated Student Body, said that while cuts have come to music, art and technical education programs, class size has skyrocketed. Jones called education the best investment the state can make for the future and the rally's strong turnout was "amazing."