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California Teachers Call For Week Of Budget Protests

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Teachers in Union City protested layoffs and staff reductions in March, 2011.  (CBS)

Teachers in Union City protested layoffs and staff reductions in March, 2011. (CBS)

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SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) — Facing the threat of mass layoffs, larger class sizes and the elimination of myriad programs, thousands of California teachers are expected to take part in a weeklong series of rallies and sit-ins at the Capitol and throughout the state to protest possible spending cuts in the state budget.

The California Teachers Association, which is organizing the actions, is pressing Gov. Jerry Brown to back off his call for a special election and instead push Republican lawmakers to directly approve an extension of higher sales, income and vehicle taxes, which are due to expire at the end of June. Brown promised during his campaign last year that he would not raise taxes without going to the voters.

The rallies starting Monday are an escalation of efforts by the teachers association, which waited while Brown tried to negotiate a deal with Republicans to put his proposal before voters in June. Since that effort failed, the teachers are now delivering their message directly.

“They (the state Legislature) have the opportunity to extend these taxes legislatively, and we believe that is the right way to go,” association President David Sanchez said. “If we wait until September, it will no longer be extending the taxes; it will be new taxes.

“Our concern is that if we don’t get those taxes extended, at the start of the school year, 21,000 teachers will lose their jobs.”

The campaign includes actions around the state, culminating with a rally at the state Capitol on Friday, according to the teachers association. Nine freeway billboards have already gone up statewide, using the campaign’s tagline: State of Emergency.

The effort includes delivering letters to each lawmaker’s office, calling parents and community groups and urging resolutions in the state Legislature on Wednesday, the Day of the Teacher. Teachers also are targeting Republican lawmakers in their district offices, such as a visit to the Visalia office of Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

Teachers plan to bring letters to Conway’s office after school. While her aide meets with officials, “300 volunteers will be stationed outside her office wearing shirts saying, ‘I will be a lay-off!'” according to the CTA’s detailed action plan for the week.

On Friday, Conway proposed the state Legislature direct all of an unanticipated $2.5 billion in additional tax revenue to schools as a way to avoid deep budget cuts to public education.

“By dedicating this new revenue to the classroom, there’s no need for the draconian education cuts that Democrats have proposed to justify massive tax hikes,” Conway said in a statement.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office calculated that the state has brought in higher than projected personal income, corporate and sales taxes since the fiscal year started July 1, but the governor’s office warned that costs also are expected to rise.

Teachers will also stage “grade-ins” at various shopping malls, grading papers and tests in public to show how much work teachers do after formal school hours.

Brown had hoped to balance California’s $26.6 billion budget shortfall through a mix of spending cuts and taxes. He has already signed into law bills that cut the deficit by $11.2 billion, but he was unable to find the two Republican votes he needed in each house of the Legislature to call a June special election. He wanted to ask voters to extend the tax hikes, which were enacted two years ago, for another five years.

Mindful of his campaign pledge, Brown still hopes to have a ballot measure, possibly in September.

But after talks with a handful of legislative Republicans broke down, there is no sign that those lawmakers are more willing to vote for tax extensions than they were to put them on the ballot. Tax increases and adding a measure to a ballot require two-thirds votes in the Legislature to pass.

There’s no indication that Brown would even sign the taxes into law if they were approved without going to a public vote.

“The Legislature has its own prerogative, but the governor has made it clear that he’s not open to any proposal that doesn’t include a vote of the people,” said his spokesman, Gil Duran.

That approach would seem to put the Democratic governor at odds with an influential public employee union that helped him get elected last year. The California Teachers Association represents 325,000 teachers and other school employees, about two-thirds of public school teachers in California, and is among the most influential players in state politics. Duran says the union and governor’s office just have different visions for arriving at the same point.

“I wouldn’t say at odds. People express different opinions about what should happen. And that’s just part of reality. We respect their opinion and we hope they respect his,” Duran said.

Brown is scheduled to release his revised budget proposal on May 16. In doing so, he could opt to release two plans, one an “all-cuts” budget that would propose severe, deep cuts to schools if the increases to the income, sales and vehicle taxes are not extended.

School districts have issued about 20,000 pink slips to teachers and other school employees. The layoffs would take effect for the next school year if the money does not materialize.

Six in 10 California school districts already have reduced the number of school days in their year since the Legislature allowed them to do so to save money. The mandatory limit had been 180 days.

The 120,000-member California Federation of Teachers is also participating in the weeklong series of events.

Next week’s events by the teachers unions also coincide with a planned occupation of the state Capitol grounds by activists protesting a wider array of state budget cuts and policy issues, including anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan. She noted that while the peace activists “are in solidarity” with the teachers, the two events are not linked.

“We’re not just concerned about education. We’re concerned about everybody else Jerry Brown calls ‘the vulnerable,’ who are losing precious and valuable social services,” Sheehan said. “They’re already vulnerable, but this budget will make them more vulnerable.”

She said protesters will try to camp overnight on the state Capitol grounds and hold sit-ins “as long as we can sustain it.”

Sheehan, whose 21-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004, became famous after she staged a prolonged demonstration in 2005 outside former President George W. Bush’s ranch near Crawford, Texas.

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