Thousands of Educators, Parents and Supporters Stand Up for Schools on Friday, March 13, CTA’s Statewide Day of Action
SVUSD plans for worst-case budget scenario
By Carissa Marshcmarsh@theacorn.com
Around 230 of Simi Valley’s 1,000 teachers will find out before the end of the day whether they need to consider looking for work elsewhere.Facing a possible $11-million shortfall for the next school year, Simi Valley Unified School District is sending the notices as it plans for a worst-case budget scenario. The district is required by law to notify teachers by today that they might not be asked to return. It’s still unknown just how many Simi teachers will lose their jobs when the district makes its final staffing decisions in May.Leading up to what the state’s teachers union dubbed “Pink Friday,” local teachers showed their solidarity in several ways this week as they attempted to alert the public to the severity of the pending layoffs, which are due primarily to a reduction in state funding.Due to cuts in the recently approved state budget, the five East County school districts face a combined loss of revenue of more than $17 million this year and an additional $4 million next year, totaling more than $21 million for both years.Third-year Simi Valley High School teacher Dan Ham and several of his colleagues stood at the entrance to the school’s main parking lot on Tuesday, handing out pink fliers and speaking to parents. He and others across the district donned pink pins stating, “Stand Up For Schools.”“There are a lot of concerned teachers,” Ham said. “You can see it on their faces. It’s on my mind too. I’m concerned.”Ham, who teaches world history, U.S. government and economics, said he wanted to inform the community about what’s happening in the schools. The young teacher, who grew up in the small Northern California town of Yreka and earned his undergraduate degree and teaching credential at Cal Lutheran University, doesn’t know where he’d work if he lost his teaching job.“I’m not sure what I’d be able to get,” Ham said. “It would be silly for me not to be worried about my career right now.”In recognition of Pink Friday, teachers, students, administrators and other community members will wear pink and rally today from 3 to 5 p.m. on the corners of Sycamore Drive and Cochran Street. Concerned members of the public have been invited to attend.Simi Valley High Principal Steve Pietrolungo, who stood by his teachers Tuesday as they held up signs, estimated that 20 to 30 teachers at his campus will receive potential layoff notices today. “These teachers are part of my family,” Pietrolungo said. “This isn’t a final notice. However, it’s still very upsetting when you’re one step closer to losing your job. These teachers have given their blood, money, sweat and time in this profession.“Where it impacts kids is that it’s their basketball coach, their ceramics teacher, their mock debate coach, their AP teacher. . . . When you put a name to it, it really hits the kids.”Ham won’t avoid Pietrolungo, who will personally hand out the pink slips, in the hallways today.“I’m ready to face the music if I need to,” he said.Many teachers picketed Tuesday and Wednesday at different school sites, including Simi and White Oak elementary schools.First-grade teacher Jennifer Hemphill, who’s in her first year at White Oak and eighth year overall in SV Unified, fears that she and her husband may both lose their jobs.“And we have three kids,” Hemphill said. “I am at risk, but I know we’re not the only ones.”Mary Ellen Borchart has taught science at White Oak for 10 years. The district is expected to cut 12 elementary science positions for a savings of $840,000. “I’ll have a job next year, but I won’t be teaching science,” Borchart said. “It seems like we’re always on the chopping block.”According to Superintendent Kathryn Scroggin, the district has already made $5.1 million in cuts this school year and needs to make $10.9 million in reductions in 2009-10. Betsy Sanders, vice president for the Simi Educators Association, handed out informational fliers to parents after school. “Everyone’s anxious, every-one’s on edge,” said Sanders, who has taught ceramics at the high school since 1992 and been a teacher in the district since 1987. “It’s not just us. The whole world is being affected.”Parents seem to be hearing the teachers’ pleas.“It’s important to let everyone know the issues,” said parent David Haas after a morning rally at White Oak. “Our children are a pretty good investment. It’s not like we’re doing some pork barrel thing. I’m all for (supporting teachers).”At the end of the small rally at Simi Valley High, Ham collected all the signs and returned them to Pietrolungo’s office.As the final few students lingered on campus waiting for rides home, Ham reflected on his passion for teaching.“I really love history and being able to share that love with other people,” Ham said. “It’s a dream come true to keep studying history and share it with students.”For Ham, part of the dream now means not receiving a pink slip at the end of the day.