Students at Elk Grove Elementary School joined kids from San Francisco to Los Angeles to blow bubbles Thursday in protest of state budget cuts to education.
The "This Budget Blows" protest, organized by the parent organization Educate Our State, coincided with the March 15 deadline for school districts to issue preliminary layoff notices to educators.
Nine empty chairs at Elk Grove Elementary represented the nine teachers at that school that were given pink slips.
California lags behind all but a few states when it comes to spending per student, said Rondalyn Lim, Elk Grove Elementary PTA president and the event's organizer. "That is not acceptable. We teach one in eight students in the nation. This is an opportunity to show them (community members) how it impacts our schools."
Volunteers and teachers stopped cars at intersections near the school to hand out fliers. One asked drivers to contact legislators to persuade them to budget money for schools instead of waiting for a November initiative that would raise taxes to help fund education.
"School starts in August; we can't wait until November to pass an initiative," Lim said.
She said the PTA is already funding the library and paying for many of the school's supplies.
Teachers in the Elk Grove Unified School District also used the event to protest district budget decisions and union negotiations, including an administration proposal to cap employee health benefits.
They said the district should use some of the money in its reserve to maintain smaller class sizes and to avoid layoffs. Teachers pointed out that the district's reserve became large because of concessions they have made in recent years.
District officials told The Bee the entire reserve is needed to balance its budget over the three-year period required by the state.
Lim said parents should be concerned about the district's plan to increase class sizes. "Teachers are hard pressed to give one-on-one time," she said.
Sixth-grader Ava Solano-Lin, Lim's daughter, agrees. She says her teacher does his best to help all the students, but some need extra help. "They get help at the learning center," she said. "Now that may get cut."
The statewide protest kicks off a letter-writing campaign to legislators, said Crystal Brown, president and co-founder of Educate Our State. She said Thursday morning that the organization was receiving several hundred letters an hour at its website www.ThisBudgetBlows.org.
Brown said state legislators should put together a fully funded budget for schools when the state budget is revised in May. In the meantime, she said, school districts are being instructed to budget for the worse-case scenario, forcing them to make major cuts, including issuing numerous pink slips, she said.
She said that about 65 schools in 50 cities participated in the protest.