Teacher Layoffs in South San Francisco

By Carole Seligman

On Thursday, February 25, 2010 the South San Francisco Board of Education voted to lay-off teachers. Carole Seligman, a long-time teacher in the South San Francisco Unified School District made the following comments to the public comment section of the meeting. —Socialist Viewpoint

We all know that the South San Francisco Board of Education cannot solve the financial problem that is causing you to lay-off teachers and end the best program in our elementary schools—class size reduction. What can this school board do to help solve this problem?

First, we need to say who has the money that we need for our schools. The banks, which received billions in bailout funds from the federal government, the oil companies and health insurance companies whose profits are in the billions, and the federal government which is using our tax dollars to carry on two wars and military occupations, building massive new military bases in Colombia, and starting new military interventions in Pakistan, Haiti, and elsewhere. That’s where the money is.

Second, since we know where the money is, our Board of Education has the responsibility to mobilize the community to demand full funding for schools. The banks, the oil companies, the giant health insurance corporations do not pay their share. Some of them pay nothing. Some get rebates! The banks actually got our money for their bailout. This Board had a chance to vote on a motion to support a tax on the oil corporations, but you didn’t pass it.

Now, the State of California needs to hear from our community and our elected leaders that we will not accept bank bailouts and free passes from taxation for the super rich, paid for at the cost of our children’s education. Public education is a right, not a privilege, and it’s our democratic right, and your duty as elected school leaders, to fight for it.

The most valuable elementary school program our district has is reasonably sized classes of 20 students. The class-size reduction program is the most effective means this school district has for teaching reading and numeracy to all the children, especially to English learners. Small classes mean more teacher-student talk, more teaching, more learning. Every one of us in this room, unless you are a Native American, is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. Our schools are where immigrants learn English and enrich the cultural life of this country.

But, here’s what’s happening instead: Because some of our schools and our district are being punished by the so-called Program Improvement component of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation; school administrators are telling our elementary school teachers that we probably should not be teaching art, music, social studies, and science. We should spend the entire school day on reading and math.

Some parents told you this at the community forum last week. It’s true. Our school, Sunshine Gardens, will be giving out some report cards with no grades for social studies and science on them. This reflects the fact that we were specifically told by administrators that it was okay, and even desirable, that these subjects not be taught! This is the beginning of the punishment of the children embedded in the NCLB law, a punishment that gets worse until, like in Rhode Island this week, the entire faculty of the one town high school was fired! Let’s not let that happen here! Let’s say “No” to punishments of teachers and students!

The community needs to be mobilized to demand that our teachers not be layed-off. We need to demand that class-size reduction stays in elementary and 9th grades. We need to demand that the elementary and middle school programs teach, (or reinstate), the arts, music, science, and social studies. These are fundamental to good school programs.

We must demand that the California government tax the rich to pay for education and other services the people need. We must demand that the federal government fund education and human needs not spend trillions of dollars for war!