Mayor’s Boyle Heights Town Hall Taken Over by Teachers
Other community concerns were forced to the back burner, as teachers hijack the discussion.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
It was supposed to be a forum for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to present his proposed Los Angeles city budget to the community, but the Boyle Heights Town Hall meeting at Our Lady of Talpa was quickly taken over by a vocal group of teachers who wanted to discuss teacher layoffs, and nothing more.
The town hall started off friendly enough with the mayor making sure that translation services were being offered, praising Councilmember Jose Huizar for his support and work, and acknowledging the teachers’ and their supporters presence—who made up about a third of the audience.
Referencing his plan to save city jobs by asking employees to work one hour without pay, go without pay raises and to contribute more to their pensions, Villaraigosa also said he believes there is a way to avoid teacher layoffs. But “I’d have to be a snake salesman to look you in the eye and tell you that we can do all of that with a snap of my fingers,” Villaraigosa said. “It’s going to mean everyone participating.”
Teachers and supporters appeared to be prepared for a showdown, however, with about a third of the audience standing throughout the meeting and several people and children holding up signs that read: “Actions Speak Louder than Words,” “Don’t Increase Class Size,” “93 percent of Teachers at Roosevelt don’t have confidence in the Mayor’s Partnership,” to cite a few.
The mayor said he agreed with teachers and their supporters that the goal of federal stimulus dollars is to save jobs, and that he too does not want teacher lay offs or class size increases. But it was clear the teachers weren’t going to be swayed from why they were there: to press their agenda that no teachers be laid off.
Villaraigosa attempted to remind the audience of his track record supporting labor unions and his efforts to prevent teacher layoffs by LAUSD, but he also implied that the teachers’ union, UTLA, needs to be more flexible.
“The fact of the matter is there is no way to resolve this budget, even with the school district, without some sacrifice all the way. The numbers are too big. Particularly right now, it looks like the people of California are not going to pass the initiatives on May 19…if we don’t pass those initiatives, the budget deficit in LA Unified is not going to get that much better,” said Villaraigosa, who was shouted down as he tried to speak.
The loud and heated back and forth between the mayor and the teachers made it hard for anyone with a non-teacher related questions on the budget to be heard.
At one point, the police even stepped in to control a rowdy member of the audience, and moderator Sal Martinez, Vice President of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, asked that the audience to be more respectful.
The mayor was even interrupted when he agreed with a speaker.
“I agree with you,” said Villaraigosa. “Did you hear me? I said I agree with you!”
“I’m being honest and telling it to your face,” said the mayor in response to other audience comments.
Many of the teachers present were part of the Mayor’s Partnership Schools. Kirti Baranwal, a teacher at Gompers Middle School in Watts, told EGP the mayor’s schools were the most under-funded and they were at risk of losing 60 percent of their staff.
German Gurrola, a teacher at West Adams Prep, told EGP he wants school board members Monica Garcia and Yolie Flores, who have the mayor’s support, to change their vote and rescind layoffs.
The only time the protesters seemed to cheer loudly was when the mayor talked about cuts not involving teachers, such as a 10 percent cuts to his office budget, mandated work furloughs and $30,000 in cuts to his salary over the last two years.
Many of the teachers and their supporters were not from Boyle Heights, but were from South LA.
However, Mario Hurtado, a pink-slipped history teacher from Roosevelt, said he counted about 10 teachers and 10 students from Roosevelt.
He told EGP they wanted Title 1 Funds, used for ESL Programs and supplemental school supplies, to be less restrictive and to be used temporarily to pay for teacher and staff salaries.
“Because we are in an economic crisis and short on funds, restrictions on Title 1 should be waived—we might be short on supplies, like Post-Its, but we’ll have teachers,” said Hurtado.
The mayor was able to answer a question from a Ramona Gardens resident who wanted to know what he is doing for their community besides increasing policing. Villaraigosa responded by listing the anti-gang and the youth intervention programs that are targeting their community and giving young people an alternative to gangs.
He attempted to answer a handful of questions not related to teachers’ layoffs, but his responses were mostly drowned out by the teachers’ protests.
Matt Szabo, the mayor’s press secretary, told EGP the purpose of the town hall was for the mayor to address the community’s concerns and be accessible.
“Not a single person can walk away from this forum and say that the mayor dodged questions or didn’t share their concern,” Szabo said.Print This Post
May 7, 2009 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.