More than a hundred teachers, school district administrators and college professors protested outside the offices of a north Orange County state assemblyman Monday.
Many wore the red shirts that are the signature of public school teachers unions. Lots of printed and handmade signs were waved at cars making their way past the busy Fullerton intersection of Harbor and Brea Boulevards. Some of the signs said “Save Our Schools” and “Raise Corporate Taxes, Not Class Size.”
Eric Padgett, a school board member at the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, said he and other board members were motivated to join the protest because funding cuts to his district in recent years have drastically diminished the quality of education at his district’s schools.
“Chris Norby is our local assemblyman and we do have regular contact with him," Padgett said. "We just want him to understand the importance of no more cuts. And to really take a look at the tax extensions so that we don’t have to take more drastic cuts to our education system."
This group of educators, along with teachers unions and other education groups organizing across the state, are staging similar actions this week to put pressure on Sacramento legislators. The groups want lawmakers to guarantee public education will receive the same funding as last year. The education advocates also want legislators to renew expiring vehicle, sales and income taxes in order to help fund schools and universities.
Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby was not in his Fullerton office at the time of the protest. His office released a statement saying he supports some of the group’s goals.
“I share the goal of an effective and accessible education system as a pathway for equalizing opportunity for all,” the statement said. Norby is calling for pension reforms, a reserve fund and an education spending cap tied to inflation.
He also called for teacher pay to be tied to accountability measures and to hold mediocre teachers accountable. “We must remember that schools exist not for the benefit of those they employ but, for the students they educate,” Norby’s statement said.
Most state Republicans have signed a pledge by a Washington D.C.-based group to oppose tax increases. That opposing view of the role of tax increases to help bail out public schools is the main difference between education groups and the minority of Sacramento Republicans whose votes are needed to approve such measures.
The protest attracted members of the Tea Party, including Travis Kiger. He and several other people handed out teal-colored flyers to whoever would take one. The flyer was titled, “585 Fullerton Teachers and Educators Make Over $90,000 A Year.”
In six columns full names of people were printed with salaries that ranged from $95,884 to $344,336. Kiger said he obtained the data from a list published by the Orange County Register. “We’re presenting this list out here because right now that the teachers unions are here asking Californians to fork over extra taxes to basically support these salaries,” he said.
Such information appears to feed a sympathy gap in the general public as teachers make their plight public in protests like these. Much of the expense in public education is teacher salaries so calls for increases in education funding are largely calls for restoration of teacher salaries and jobs.
Joanne Fawley, the president of the teachers union at the Anaheim Union High School District, said some people don’t empathize because they don’t see teachers as highly-trained professionals. “We’re taking the difficulties along with everyone else. We’re saying we need the stability so California can begin to rebuild,” she said.