Cassidy Bensko serves up a batch of pink lemonade | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples
Children from North Park Elementary have joined the effort to support the 84 teachers who may be pink-slipped as soon as tonight at the Saugus Union School District board meeting. They set up a stand to raise money for gift cards by selling lemonade.
Pink lemonade for pink slips.
Last Thursday seven North Park teachers were notified that they could be receiving RIF (Reduction in Force) notices from the district known colloquially as pink slips.
“Many teachers were visibly upset and the kids saw this. All but one of our third grade teachers was pink slipped. The third graders were sad after seeing many of their teachers crying,” said Robin Bratslavsky, a North Park parent.
Cassidy Bensko, a third grade student, came up with the idea of a cupcake and pink lemonade stand.
“Well, we were in our class and our teacher said that a lot of teachers at our school are getting laid off. So right when she left the room everybody got in a circle and started talking about we needed to do something,” said Bensko.
Cassidy, 8 (center) and Emma Bensko, 6 | Photo: Stephen K. Peeples
Cassidy’s mom spoke about the brainstorming huddle.
“Cassie Mae is just kind of used to doing these lemonade stands. That’s their point of reference when they want to do something that’s productive and something that’s fun. The thing that comes to mind is the lemonade stand,” said Micaela Bensko.
With cupcakes donated by Bake U Happy the students wanted to raise money to buy gift cards for pink-slipped teachers.
“This is the tool to show the teachers how much they love them. That’s what this is really all about. That’s why we have love balloons,” said Micaela Bensko.
Petition for Educational Foundation
Saugus Union School District parent Jackie MacDougall wants to get to the root of the problem that’s forcing the district to possibly pink slip 84 teachers.
“We’ve hit a critical point if something doesn’t happen now, I don’t think we’re going to be able to bounce back,” said MacDougall.
Perhaps more accurately, MacDougall wants to get to the grass roots of the problem.
On Monday afternoon, MacDougall and her former business partner Andrea De La Cerda (whose husband Paul is a board member) started a petition campaign through the website Change.org entitled “Saugus Union School District: Establish Education Foundation to Prevent Budget Cuts!” Within 24 hours the petition had nearly 1,000 signers primarily through word-of-Facebook.
MacDougall and De la Cerda didn’t want to speak at tonight’s SUSD board meeting merely representing two parents. They wanted to demonstrate wide support.
“I think a thousand signatures in a 24 hour period shows them that many, many parents are on board,” said MacDougall.
On board for what exactly?
MacDougall wants more than signatures on a petition; she’s hoping SUSD parents will sign checks to put money into an education foundation.
“We’re not asking every single parent – well, we are asking every single parent to write a check — but we also understand if you can’t,” said MacDougall.
For parents whose pocketbooks are not overflowing, MacDougall is asking for volunteer help in reaching out to friends or businesses.
“If you can’t make a donation, then who do you know? Who can you reach out to? What businesses? You can volunteer time or help to run a fundraiser,” MacDougall said.
Since Santa Clarita is a bedroom community to Hollywood she hoping residents can reach out to the entertainment industry. She also believes that the economy hasn’t been bad for all local businesses.
“Some businesses are doing really well and they need to step up in the community and support the community the way we support them,” said MacDougall.
Andrea De la Cerda
MacDougall knows her education foundation idea isn’t merely pie-in-the-sky. The path has already been explored and mapped.
“La Canada has their own school district and they have a foundation that raised $2 million a year,” said MacDougall.
Should the SUSD decide to raise the student to teacher ratio in grades Kindergarten through 3rd grade to 30-to-1, the district would save money by contracting with fewer teachers. Not only would that cost up to 84 teachers their jobs, MacDougall believes the children will suffer.
MacDougall has two children currently enrolled at Helmers Elementary with another child expected to enter Kindergarten next year. One of her children, whom she describes as being on the “autism spectrum”, has had the fortune of having a teacher who is “unbelievably connected and in tune with his needs”. She believes children with needs similar to her son’s will slip through the cracks in a larger classroom.
“Next year the teacher’s going to have 30 kids and then my child who doesn’t necessarily qualify for an aide and now he’s in a classroom with 30 kids? That’s not going to fly,” MacDougall said.
Cheryl Cameron, a teacher at Bridgeport Elementary in Valencia facing an RIF notice, says she often hears parents say a 30-to-1 ratio was what they experienced as kids and that worked out fine. Cameron believes the expectations and responsibilities for teachers since the 70s and 80s has changed a great deal with the mainstreaming of children with learning disabilities and the influx English language learners.
“Years ago class size reduction of 30-to-1 might have been more of an ordinary thing. But now we have more students in our district, due to shifting demographics, who are learning English. They require, both legally and ethically, I think more of our time to bring them up to speed,” said Cameron.
MacDougall has heard suggestions that the answer to the budget problem is to cut the pay of administrators. She says people don’t understand that the SUSD is in deeper financial waters than that.
“People are saying cut the administration, cut their salaries and this and that. The teacher jobs are only a fraction of the cuts. We’re expected to have $6.5 million dollars in cuts. Teacher salaries are like a third of that,” said MacDougall.
MacDougall says the source of the SUSD financial troubles derives from being one of the lowest funded districts in Los Angeles County. Although she admits she’s still researching the history of budget allocations she says it derives from calculations made in the 1970s when the population in Santa Clarita was not as large.
“And so, we spend per student 4,000 something dollars versus some places in California where they get twice that per student. We’re still struggling. That’s just crazy to determine the budget back in the 70s and not adjust that based on the population,” said MacDougall.
According to CaliforniaWatch.org in a June 2, 2011 report the SUSD spent $7,663 per student. However, MacDougall’s larger point that SUSD is being outspent is validated by California Watch’s report that the Los Angeles Unified School District spends $10,015 per student. Taft Union High School in Kern County spends $21,932 per student.
No matter the numbers MacDougall knows that action must be taken now. A proposed ballot measure in November will come too late for the 2012-2013 school year budgeting.
“I don’t necessarily believe the foundation can save every single teacher and every single program. Let’s just say we raise $500,000 this year. What could we save? What quality of education can we give our kids that would not otherwise be there?” said MacDougall.