SAN DIEGO (CBS8/CNS) - About 1,000 teachers, school workers, students and parents descended on downtown San Diego on Friday to take part in a "state of emergency" rally calling on the Legislature to maintain funding for education.
The rally at Embarcadero Marina Park North culminated a week of protests spearheaded by the California Teachers Association. The protests began Monday in Sacramento with a rally at the state Capitol.
Simultaneous events were taking place today in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and San Bernardino.
Many of the participants wore the San Diego Education Association's red T-shirts, and carried signs and banners. The organization has held rallies outside schools almost daily in hopes of warding off teacher layoffs and other major spending cuts.
"Our library time has been cut, our computer lab has been completely eliminated," said Robert Hutchinson, a Special Education teacher at Vista Unified's Grapevine Elementary.
California Teacher of the Year Darin Curtis, a Physical Education teacher at Tierra Del Sol Middle School in Lakeside, spoke to the large crowd. He stressed that classes have doubled and even tripled in recent years and the he, like so many other teachers, are being asked to do more with less.
"I have to run an entire PE budget for 600 kids on $700 for the entire year, it's not realistic," explains Curtis.
Hundreds of teachers and staff members' jobs are on the chopping block at the end of the school year, and the Board of Education has approved increased class sizes and discussed cutting bus service to the legal minimum.
"In my school we're losing 5 teachers," said Katelyn Wendt, a 4th grade teacher at Boone Elementary in San Diego Unified. She says class size for next year will have a minimum of 37 students.
"Students that are in the middle of the road fall through the cracks," she says. "It's impossible for one teacher to manage that many students and be as effective as they can possibly can."
Nearby, several Republican and taxpayer groups held a counter-protest.
David Spady, of Americans for Prosperity, said that the teachers' union "should not look at the taxpayers as an ATM."
He adds that teachers and students are pawns to a bigger issue and that cuts need to be focused elsewhere.
"From an education establishment stand point, [we] need to see the heavy bureaucracy that you have in the education system on the administration side cut, we don't want to see cuts in the classroom," said Spady.
He emphasizes a need for legislators to not be influenced by the unions and to make decisions based on what's best for the taxpayer.
Earlier, a small group of people held a rally outside the Mira Mesa office of Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego. The lawmaker said state revenues are exceeding projections by $2.5 billion, which should allow for K-12 education to be fully funded next year without adding new taxes.
He vowed not to support a budget that further decreases education funding.
Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to release an updated budget proposal Monday, in part reflecting the improved financial picture.