Caption: Ventura teachers lined the streets of Victoria and Telegraph road on March 13 protesting the mass layoffs proposed for all California school districts. (Photos by Wesley Bauman/Brooks Institute 2009) 

The state’s seemingly never-ending fiscal crisis won’t stop teachers from giving students a good education, Oxnard and Ventura school officials said at one of the March 13 rallies to spotlight looming teacher layoffs.

With their jobs depending on the outcome of a May 19 election — when voters decide whether to approve school financing in the state’s tentative budget agreement — teachers are nonetheless preparing students for the annual round of standardized testing.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and fear” among teachers, said Oxnard School District Superintendent Janis Duran. Despite that, “they’re still doing quality teaching, the kids still come first.”

With that in mind, administrators are working hard to cut costs everywhere but in the classroom, said Duran and Assistant Superintendent Glenston Thompson, who manages the district’s business and fiscal services.

Hiring has been frozen, large contracts with vendors are under review, said Thompson, adding that everything — including eliminating administrative positions — is on the table.

“We’re looking for innovations and opportunities that will lend to cost reduction,” Thompson explained, “but our strategy has been to avoid reduction of teachers and classroom resources as much as possible.”

Duran and Thompson spoke at a rally held at the Government Center by teachers, administrators, students and other supporters on the day pink slips were mailed to teachers who will be dropped from the payroll if Proposition 1-A is not passed by voters.

The proposition, which would let state officials take money from other programs to pay for education, has been put on the ballot by legislators who recently worked out a budget plan after months of wrangling.

State Senator Tony Strickland, who voted against the state budget agreement, says he doesn’t think the solution to the school funding crisis lies in Prop. 1-A, which he expects to fail at the polls.

“The way to get out of this is to grow the economy, to do whatever we can to create jobs,” said Strickland on Tuesday. “We have to stop doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

If the voters reject the propositions the budget agreement is built on, “we’ll be back where we started,” said Strickland. “Hopefully, in May or June we’ll be able to pass something that allows money to go the school districts without strings attached.”

Meanwhile, Thompson and Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Trudy Arriaga said they don’t think school districts can necessarily count on the federal stimulus package passed by Congress to help close the budget gap forcing layoffs, either.

Although the package includes money earmarked for Title 1, special education and facilities, “I don’t know anyone who’s factoring stimulus package money into their budgets,” Arriaga said.

Arriaga said administrators are hoping Congress passes another appropriations bill specifically for closing the budget gaps forcing teacher layoffs. As for the bill already passed, “We’re hopeful, we’re all waiting to see how it directly impacts us.”

But Thompson is skeptical school districts are going to see any of the federal stimulus money make its way past Sacramento because state officials will want to use the money to fill in their own budget gaps.

“I think it’s up in the air, unless there are very strict guidelines that say ‘you (legislators) can’t touch this,’ ” Thompson said. “I’m not sure if we’ll ever get that money.”

With so much uncertainty of what the future may hold, many teachers are left in a holding pattern, and some have begun thinking about pursuing a new career path altogether.

“We haven’t lost any kids, but we’re losing teachers because we don’t have the money to keep them,” said Robin Lefkovits, the president of Oxnard School District’s teacher’s association.

“We’ve got single-parent families, parents with kids at home, they need their jobs like in any other industry,” said Lefkovits, “and there’s not going to be jobs in other districts because every district is going through the same thing with their budget.”
Pink-slipped teacher Melanie Marks, who has taught first- and second-graders at Poinsettia Elementary School in Ventura for three and a half years, said she and her husband have postponed plans to buy a home for now.

“I have a lot of friends who are getting pink slips, and they don’t know what they are going to do,” said Marks. “They’re considering a different career path, which I’m also contemplating, because I don’t know if I have job security.”

Pink-slipped Ocean View School District teacher Deicy Aguilar said she hasn’t made other plans yet.

“I’m trying to stay hopeful,” said Aguilar, who has taught second grade at Mar Vista Elementary School for two years. “The sad part of this is it’s not just the teachers, but everyone in general.”