A row of high school students wearing masks and looking at laptops

Teacher and Her Students Agree: Layoffs Not the Answer to WCCUSD Budget Woes

A row of high school students wearing masks and looking at laptops

(Mitzi Pérez-Caro / CC Pulse file)

Commentary, Mitzi Pérez-Caro

As a teacher, I am beyond sick and tired of West Contra Costa Unified budget cuts.

I am a seventh-year teacher at Kennedy High in Richmond. I teach 70 students computer science in the form of digital arts and web design, and I teach 90 students the art and skill of journalism, which I am learning myself in my current master’s program at UC Berkeley’s journalism school.

My students receive articulated credit. That means they are able to transfer the credit they receive in high school to junior colleges and select universities. I am a very dedicated teacher. I care very deeply about my students and the skills that they are able to carry on with them.

When I’m Overwhelmed, This Teacher Keeps Me Motivated

I cannot, however, stand the bureaucracy of the systems that work against us. How can the district consider cutting staff? It is insulting at a school like Kennedy to think that this is a solution.

We suffer from various vacancies. Not all classrooms are fully staffed. We are missing office staff. We are missing campus security staff. We just got health center positions filled. We are bleeding from a wound that they intend to puncture again.

“If we had every student that is truant show up to class, we would be out of a deficit,” said the Interim Associate Superintendent Business Services, Kim Moses, during the first WCCUSD budget forum meeting on Jan 16. She made similar remarks during subsequent meetings.

Jabbing at that same wound, they have no solution to the main issue at hand.

If a student doesn’t show up for class, a Student Attendance Review Team would meet with them and their family to discuss the reasons and possible solutions. But at Kennedy, we don’t have an active SART. We are also one of the schools with the highest cases of truancies. 

And what are we doing to encourage students to come to school? We have three vacancies in teacher positions, there are nearly five teachers out daily, and there are mental health and personal issues not being addressed for students. And, yes, there are many great things happening at Kennedy with student groups, but we as a system could be doing more for them.

>>>Read: ‘When Life Hits Like a Whip’: Students Try to Deal With Mental Health Themselves But Want More Support

It is hard. It is hard for them to want to show up in this environment.

I asked my own students their thoughts. Here is what they said:

We’re already understaffed already, so why take more teachers away and out of a job while we’re also unable to even get teachers to fill in a spot? I understand students aren’t coming, but taking away teachers will quite literally do the opposite of that. They should seek something else — any other alternative — because this is no way a solution at all. Cutting the budget only equals worsening the problem and so they should try to look for another answer. This school is going to hell because of their careless stupid decisions, so I doubt they’ll change. They don’t actually care about any of the youth here, that’s for sure.
— Willow Martinez, 16

I do not believe school staff should be laid off. It’s honestly very stupid that they’re considering laying off people, basically for no reason. Teachers along with other school staff do not get nearly enough money. They get paid once a month; laying them off would actually make them financially stressed, more than they already are. Currently, people don’t even want to become teachers because they get paid nothing, and they don’t want to go through the burden of going into debt and living off of basically nothing throughout all of their teaching careers. Also, laying off teachers would not only rob them of money, it would also rob the students of their education. Students have been taking classes online because we don’t have enough teachers, so they don’t learn the same way. Some people have even had to take freshman classes as sophomores because the district didn’t care enough about hiring teachers. They have failed students and their education.
— Mariana Calvario, 16

Staff shouldn’t be laid off. I think later they’ll find difficulty in hiring teachers and they won’t be able to replace the few good ones we have. We really already don’t have enough teachers, we have so many less classes and opportunities compared to other schools and they’re just taking more away. We were missing a French class the past two years, and now, we’re missing Spanish. I wish they’d in fact hire more teachers and add more classes to take. Some teachers’ classes are also already overloaded because they have more students than the limit, sometimes there aren’t even enough chairs in a class. Do they just want a better building for look and aesthetic, or do they want an actual education for the kids? I understand it might be over their budget but they shouldn’t get rid of the few teachers. Another point is they give teachers classes to teach that they’re not specialized in or things they have never taught before. We lack teachers and better classes, so I disagree with layoffs.
— Lourdes Mendoza Ramos, 16

>>>Read: Disadvantaged Students Are Especially Struggling Amid Teacher Shortages

I witness numerous teacher absences every day. Although I do enjoy a day without my teacher, I understand that their positions are essential in order to gain an education. I find it hard to make sense of the idea that more teachers will be laid off when we have little in the first place. How will the district continue to keep classrooms operating with fewer educators? A lot of my teachers are well liked and provide entertaining lessons that make school a lot easier to be engaged in. I understand that these layoffs will affect all working school staff. As a student, the idea of fewer school staff may seem fun but actually may cause harm to our school. This might influence the students in my school to become even more disrespectful and have little regard for their education. I am saddened to hear that many school staff will become unemployed as a lot of them have done well in their jobs. I am fortunate to have formed connections and friendships with the security, janitors and working adults on campus. I believe neither the kids nor school staff will benefit from this decision. Unfortunately, it always comes down to money. I do not blatantly blame the district, but I only wish things could be better.
— Angela Taylor Ortiz, 16

I believe that there should be no layoffs. Maybe the district could invest in eco-friendly power sources and run the school entirely on solar energy. I think the school should create “Go Fund Me” accounts in order to help raise money for sports teams, travel, food and classroom materials. I think students and staff could clean up classrooms to save money on custodial work.
— Jalen Kelly, 14

My students make some great points. Our district did not even consider the most obvious solutions. Why aren’t we focusing more on our SARTs? Why aren’t we using the energy stored in the solar panels on our campuses to save on energy? Why aren’t we spending less on consultants that aren’t directly helping student achievement?

The district should pay staff — specifically, teachers — more, not less. The district needs to address the issues laid out above instead of cutting positions. The district needs a more functioning budget process because we should not be in this position every school year.

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1 Comment
  • Erika Cruces de Zavala
    Posted at 20:16h, 19 February

    Mi nombre es Erika Cruces y soy una mamá voluntaria y soy parte de mi comunidad del
    Distrito de WCCUSD y no es posible que los que más lo necesitan son los que más están o saldrán perjudicados por todo el mal manejo del presupuesto para nuestro distrito. Es tan fácil para ellos decir, cortamos aquí, quitamos estos puestos etc etc, Y aún asi quieren más estudiantes en nuestra
    Distrito, las familias corren a un lugar donde al mínimo pueden tener un maestros un apoyo del personal para poder tener una educación de calidad. Créame somos varios que amamos este distrito por su comunidad. Conozco a una gran persona que a dado tanto para su escuela como a su comunidad ella es Lolita de la escuela Richmond High y su posición se verá afectada es una de las personas que no solo ayuda a las familias si no a los jóvenes y sobretodo ella es bilingüe es increíble que otra vez estamos pasando por la falta de dirección a nuestro distrito a nuestra comunidad a nuestros hijos.

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