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GUEST OPINION: Rallying community support for local education


It has been a rough few years for California, and most of us have had to batten down the hatches to weather the financial storm. We have made painful decisions about what to cut and where to spend our precious funds. It makes us look at what we value as individuals, families and a community.

Public education is facing a serious crisis in Sonoma County. This is not new and has been lamented in Press Democrat editorials and Close to Home columns by individuals such as Mark Wardlaw, Jeff Reed and Claudia Fransen. They all ask the question: How much value do we put on education?

In the coming months, we need to decide what kind of future we want for our students. Our schools cannot continue to provide the education our students need with further cuts.

With scarce resources, we are forced to negotiate over which necessities to cut or fund. This is not the way to maintain a vital public good.

We hear time and again that if we cut out the "waste," there will be enough money. Please come to any of the public school board meetings and judge for yourself whether the proposed cuts involve waste. We have already cut the budget at the Santa Rosa school district from $140 million in 2007 to $129 million in 2011. We are looking at cutting another $8.3 million for next year.

The Santa Rosa Teachers Association — with support from community groups such as Occupy Santa Rosa, Moveon.org, and the North Bay Labor Council — will hold a rally at Courthouse Square on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The rally is in response to the recent news that Santa Rosa City Schools will release a list of possible cuts in the coming weeks that will include an increase in class sizes, further reductions in programs, a shortened school year and possible layoff notices on March 15.

The purpose of this rally is to send a clear message that public education needs support. The slogan for the event is "Public education strengthens our community." The goals are to:

<BL@199,12,11,10>Educate the public on the future of education.

<BL@199,12,11,10>Encourage support for funding.

<BL@199,12,11,10>And build community support.

We want to share first-hand stories of how these cuts affect classrooms. Cuts have already resulted in bloated class sizes of more than 40 students. We have lost critical staff such as teacher librarians and counselors. In addition, vital music, art and career courses have been sacrificed. Teachers have been trying to fill the gaps left by all of these cuts.

In classrooms across Sonoma County, teachers buy tissues and hand sanitizer, paper for copies, ink cartridges for printers, art supplies, and the list goes on.

As part of the event, we invite the public to donate supplies such as paper, markers, tissues, pens and pencils. There will be bins at the rally to collect donated supplies for schools.

We encourage the public to support funding for education. Three initiatives are in the process of gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot. It is important that one of them gets on the ballot and passes with at least a two-thirds majority vote. If they fail, we will need to explore local means of raising the funds to prevent even further catastrophic cuts.

This event is about the community coming together regardless of political party or ideology. There will be live entertainment, speakers from the community and various arts and crafts. Everyone is invited.<NO1> to join and show their support. <NO>

Public education strengthens our community and is the best investment we can make for our future. Isn't that a value we all believe in?

Andrew Brennan, a teacher at Santa Rosa High School, is president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.