‘Pink Slip’ Parade draws 1,000 for support of 207 laid-off SMMUSD employees

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State budget cuts slice deep locally, leaving the local school district no choice but to issue pink slips. Parcel tax Measure S looked at for financial relief.

By Jonathan Friedman/Special to The Malibu Times

Passionate speeches and loud cheering from a crowd of about 1,000 people were all part of a rally that took place Saturday at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade in support of public education. The participants gathered for the event at Pacific Palisades Park by the ocean, and then marched five blocks, eventually ending at the Promenade. The rally, called “The Pink Slip Parade,” was to support the 207 Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District employees who have received layoff notices in the mail, also known as pink slips.

The layoffs were part of the district’s $13.8 million cut from next year’s budget. This was done because the district is expected to receive that much less money from the state next year. Gov. Gray Davis has proposed large cuts to education to help mitigate a state deficit estimated to be as high as $34 billion. But those at the rally said education is being hit too severely.

“The phrase that it takes a whole village to raise a child, you might have remembered that,” district Superintendent John Deasy said in his speech. “Well, that might be true. But it clearly took one state to abandon every child to put us in this situation.”

District voters will decide on a $225 parcel tax at the June 3 election. If it is approved, it will generate $6.2 million for the district. The speakers at the rally said it is essential for people to vote for the tax. Since a two-thirds majority approval is required for it to pass, they also said people must encourage others to vote.

“This Measure S will not pass unless we get out the vote,” Malibu High School Principal Mike Matthews said. “We must get out the vote. We must talk to our neighbors. We must talk to strangers.”

If Measure S passes, all the teachers who are slated for layoff will be reinstated. Also, some nurses, administrators, elementary library coordinators and people in a few other positions will get their jobs back. But that leaves the employees with a dilemma. As it is now, they do not have a job for next year. Should they be looking for employment elsewhere, or should they stay put, hoping that Measure S will pass?

Katie Penland, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher at John Muir Elementary, said she is not willing to take that risk. She is taking advantage of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s recent phasing out of noncredentialed teachers. Since Penland is fully credentialed, she has applied for a position there. If she gets an LAUSD teaching position, Penland said she would take it.

“Would I prefer to be back at my school with my students and my co-workers, yes,” she said. “But it’s a gamble,”

Ron Vieira, a sixth-grade humanities teacher at Lincoln Middle School, is taking a different approach. He received a layoff notice in the mail last month, but said he is not looking for other jobs.

“I’m hopeful that Measure S will pass,” he said. “The people of this district value their kids. They value their community.”

As for the matter that if the measure does not pass he will then be unemployed, Vieira said he couldn’t think about that right now. He said it is his duty to still come to work as if the pressure involved in potentially not having a job next year does not exist.

“I have to go into that classroom for the next few months still, knowing that I’m (potentially) not coming back in September,” he said. “And I cannot with good conscience let that affect my work and my kids.”

Several of Vieira’s students also attended the rally. They said they wanted to show support for their teacher. Many of them have more than one teacher who may not be returning next year.

“It makes me feel kind of sad,” said Zach Johnston, one of Vieira’s students, whose band teacher, Mark Hunt, has also been issued a layoff notice. “Because they are really good teachers. And not getting that expert advice from those teachers would be hard. And we wouldn’t learn as much stuff.”

The district has also asked the cities of Malibu and Santa Monica to increase their annual donation by a total of $3.5 million. If that is done, several more of the laid off employees will be reinstated. But that may be a difficult request to fulfill, as the cities are also in a budget crunch.