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500 Tucson teachers protest cuts to education

Citizen Staff Writer



and The Associated Press

An estimated 500 public school teachers from Tucson joined teachers from around the state and other advocates for public schools at a protest rally Wednesday at the Arizona Capitol.

The event, which attracted a few thousand people, was a response to recently announced cuts to public school budgets in 2009 and in anticipation of a 20 percent cut to school budgets by the state next year.

The rally took place just as Gov. Jan Brewer made a speech to the Legislature about the state’s budget crisis.

The protesters included students, parents, people from school organizations, labor unions and others critical of budget cuts already made and the prospect of deeper reductions.

In January, the Legislature cut about $130 million from K-12 public schools to help close a $1.6 billion shortfall in the then-$9.9 billion budget for the current fiscal year.

Tony Vacura, a special ed teacher from Tucson High who was at the rally, said dozens of placards held messages like this one:

“Arizona rank in spending: No. 4 prisons, No. 50 education. Are these your priorities?”

He said teachers are afraid of losing their jobs and of the impact that will have on students and on their own families.

“Like most people, I’m trying to persuade the Legislature and the governor to rethink their priorities in the budget so that education doesn’t take any more cuts,” Vacura said.

He said teachers in the Sunnyside Unified School District have told him their district is contemplating not having “sub” days for teachers. Those are class days staffed by substitute teachers who take over for full-time teachers who take time off for an illness. Other full-time teachers may have to fill in, he said.

His own students getting ready to graduate from high school won’t be able to get the “transition services” they usually receive that help them “become economically independent,” Vacura said.

He’s been told he can’t place these students in these transition programs because enrollment in them has been closed for 2009.

One of his students has a parent in prison and no contact with the other parent, he said.

“He’s 17. This is one of my kids (students) who will be affected by this.”

A Tucson Unified School District spokeswoman said last month that the district would not have to cut spending in 2009 because it had “rainy day” funds to absorb more than $8 million in funding cuts from the state.

Most local school districts said they anticipate some layoffs next year, after cuts for the fiscal year that begins July 1 are made.

That also spurred Tucson teachers to the rally in Phoenix.

The K-12 school reductions this year included reduced funding for equipment.

Eric Shelley, a budget specialist for a health care company, said the Legislature must invest in education so the state can improve its business development and generate more tax revenue.

“Businesses don’t want to come here if they think there’s no education going on, if there’s no place for their employees to raise their kids,” Shelley said. “If you are pro-business, you should be pro-education, and you should think (of budget cuts) as something that is anti-business and anti-development.”

The cuts by the state were much smaller proportionally than cuts imposed on most other state programs such as universities and state agencies, according to The Associated Press.

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