Walking down Main Street on a sunny afternoon in downtown Ventura, encountering at least one homeless person is guaranteed — much like walking on State Street in Santa Barbara or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
We can expect to see young adults, maybe even teenagers, who perhaps ran away from home or got beaten down in the school of hard knocks, or an elderly person, crippled or injured in a war. Some of the saddest cases are those suffering from mental illnesses who some people ignore and categorize as “crazy.”
As every county and city battles to cure homelessness, a new class of people may not be too far from joining the ranks of these young, old and mentally ill. We know them as our mentors, our youth leaders. They are our teachers. Whether we are talking about the hypothetical Mrs. Thompson who teaches English at the middle school, Mr. Gonzalez who teaches math at the high school, or Ms. Smith who teaches first grade, an estimated local 1,000 teachers could be getting laid off as of March 15, according to Ventura County Superintendent Stan Mantooth.
An argument can be made — why protect these government-paid employees, after all it is our taxpayer dollars? Thousands of people are already being laid off, getting pay cuts, and positions are going unfilled as workers scramble to figure out how they are going to pay their bills with the tentative IOUs from Sacramento.
Understandably, everyone is hurting and while 1,000 teachers may seem like a lot, to our lawmakers in Sacramento, it’s just a drop in the bucket.
While teachers are no different than government contractors or community organizers, etc. — they have mouths to feed at home and mortgages to pay — as a whole, teachers play a different role in our community. While everyone’s contribution to society is equally important, one educator directly influences hundreds of our children and teenagers. In essence, our teachers help give guidance and direction and can be as influential in adolescents’ lives as parents.
As legislators continue to battle over budget cuts versus higher taxes, cutting education or threatening to cut education has become the norm in solving budget crises. But the implications of cutting education and laying off teachers always seem to be ignored.
So, we lay off 1,000 teachers. First, we send a clear signal to our children that education isn’t that important by creating bigger class sizes, and less one-on-one attention. Some students lose their mentors and perhaps even their direction.
Second, we unintentionally drive away students from careers in education as they see very little job security for relatively low pay, resulting in fewer quality educators for the next generation. Third, many of those laid off may become homeless or will leave the state looking for work. Once we lose them, it will be difficult to get them back.
While many of us claim we want our economy back on track, doing nothing, being complacent or believing that there is nothing we can do about these potential layoffs will hurt everyone, from the business owners teachers buy products to our children who need their guidance.
Call the California Department of Education, (916) 319-0800; Assemblymember Pedro Nava, 483-9808; Senator Tony Strickland, (916) 651-4019; Assemblymember Audra Strickland, 230-9167; Congresswoman Lois Capps, 805-985-6807 for more information on what you can do to help stop this two-fold tragedy from happening.