Archives for category: California

Erin Aubrey Kaplan writes in the Los Angeles Times about a successful public school—Baldwin Hills Elementary—that wants a co-located charter school to leave their space. Kaplan notes that there is a long history of feuding between public schools and charters, but this conflict is a first. The public school has parent and community support for reclaiming its space.

She writes that the fight is forcing a question:

Will the Los Angeles Unified School District find a way to support — even magnify — that rarest of success stories: a high achieving predominantly Black neighborhood school?

For the last seven years, Baldwin Hills Elementary School, a nearly 80-year-old campus in the Crenshaw district, has had to share digs with a charter, New Los Angeles Elementary.

New L.A. has about 200 students; Baldwin Hills twice that, but the neighborhood school’s sense of infringement isn’t just about the comparative sizes of the two student bodies.

BHE features ambitious programs. It houses a gifted magnet and serves as a “community school,” with “wraparound” healthcare and family support services. It’s also a so-called pilot school, which gives it the autonomy to offer unique classes such yoga, chess and orchestra. And it’s a designated STEAM campus — science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. In 2020, the state Department of Education designated Baldwin Hills, where 82% of the student body is Black, a distinguished school.

Not surprisingly, BHE parents and teachers tend to be organized, involved and deeply committed to growing what is regarded as an unqualified school success. To do that, they say, the school needs to get back space that was deemed nonessential and ceded to New L.A.: The charter, they say, must be relocated.

Back in October, members of Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills Elementary, a BHE parent-community-teacher coalition, sent a letter to LAUSD outlining their colocation complaints.

Sharing the campus, they wrote, “has greatly diminished the school’s ability to meet students’ social-emotional needs and mental health wellness, and hampered access to the academic programs that the school has been tasked with providing.”

Because of space constraints, Baldwin Hills is out a computer and robotics lab. Orchestra classes have been conducted on the playground blacktop. Students have to eat lunch hurriedly in a time-shared cafeteria. The bathrooms are overcrowded and sometimes unsafe.

In short, Baldwin Hills is an unfolding success story, in spite of colocation. “If we can do this in a stifled environment, imagine what we could do in a regular environment,” says Love Collins, a parent who switched her third-grader from a private school to Baldwin Hills.

The BHE coalition insists the district could find a way within the rules to relocate New L.A. (For it’s part, New L.A. claims to be looking elsewhere for a “permanent” school site.)

Community schools, for example, are supposed to be exempt from colocation, a rule the parents believe should apply at BHE despite the fact that Baldwin Hills wasn’t designated a community school until after New L.A. had moved in.

It’s a point that feels strengthened by recent developments. Two years ago, a new state law, AB 1505, gave school districts — charter school “authorizers” — expanded criteria in deciding whether to deny space to new charters or renew the leases of existing ones.

So far, LAUSD’s response has been underwhelming. Half a dozen district representatives came to Baldwin Hills for a town hall after the October letter, but as a second letter the coalition organizers sent to the district points out, none of their specific complaints or proposed solutions were addressed.

For months, the BHE group has solicited the support — or simply a call-back — from their LAUSD District 1 board member, George McKenna. When he was principal at Washington Prep, McKenna had a well-earned reputation for advocating for students of color and instituting a culture of high expectation. But neither he nor his staff has met with Neighbors in Action for Baldwin Hills Elementary.

“I very much support the parents and programs at Baldwin Hills Elementary, and always have,” McKenna says. “It’s a wonderful school.” What he doesn’t say is anything about the colocation conflict.

But the coalition is not scaling back the pressure for more definitive support.

“All we’re asking district to do is find another place to house [New L.A.], and don’t renew their contract at Baldwin,” says Jacquelyn Walker, a longtime teacher at Baldwin Hills who became its community school coordinator last year.

Underlying the many practical arguments here is a philosophical one: If Black lives truly matter, Baldwin Hills deserves — is, in fact, entitled to — as much space as possible.

With BHE, LAUSD has an organic model of Black success that the district should be nurturing, not stunting. In Walker’s words: “Allow us to thrive, give us the opportunity to do what we can do.”

The stakes for students of color are simply too high to do anything less.

Tom Ultican, who was a teacher of advanced math and physics in San Diego, wrote a terrific post about the results of school board elections in his area of California. The new front of rightwing cranks and anti-vaxxers ran for school boards promising to save children from public health measures, along with the usual religious zealots who were exercised about CRT and teachers turning children gay.

Tom’s description of the contenders and the races is fascinating. I urge you to read it.

He was invited to make endorsements in many school board elections, and he did. His candidates racked up some impressive victories.

If you read his post, you will learn who El Guapo is.

I found his post very encouraging in what is often a tide of bad news. know I would sleep better at night if I knew that Tom Ultican’s stamp of approval was a decisive factor in school board elections.

These are the closing lines in his post:

Some Final Thoughts

We are a society being buried in lies.

“The election was stolen; everybody knows I won in a landslide.” This lie is still believed by 60% of Republicans because they watch Fox News which blatantly lies.

School choice is based on Milton Friedman’s lie that Public Schools are government monopolies. There are about 19,000 school districts in the United States each with their own governing bodies the vast majority of which are elected. That is not a monopoly and in reality school choice is about not having to go to school with those peoples children. It’s a racist agenda.

Well financed propagandist Christopher Rufo has widely spread the lie that CRT is being taught in K-12 Schools. He claims it is making white children uncomfortable; another lie.

A lot of people believe the lie that public schools are grooming students to “turn them” gay. The result is censorship and a small minority of LGBTQ+ students being tormented for who they are. They are people and they deserve respect. Prejudice is a social disease.

These lies have been used to divide us and distract us from billionaires grabbing more and more for themselves. Economic inequality has reached heights never before witnessed in this country and putting up with lies is a root cause. If we lose our Democracy then there will be no choice but to put up with lies. Look at what is going on in Russia, China and Hungry.

The American public school system is a treasure and must be protected from liars and their paymasters. If someone tells you that voucher schools and charter schools are superior to public schools, they are lying.

I agree with every word!

None of the perpetrators of the largest charter scam in history will serve a day in prison

The Voice of San Diego calls the A3 scam “one of the largest” scams in history but I don’t know of any that scored more taxpayer dollars than A3.

A poor person would get jail time for stealing $500 or a car. These guys stole hundreds of millions and they got home detention.

The story of the A3 online charter school empire is one of the largest charter school scandals in U.S. history. The scam had several angles, the most lucrative of which involved enrolling thousands of students who never took any classes, as Voice previously reported.

A3’s 19 online charter schools raked in roughly $400 million from the state between 2015 and 2019. Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, the ringleaders, funneled some $80 million of that money into companies they controlled. Nine other people – including key lieutenants, an accountant and two former superintendents – were also charged for playing a role in the scheme to steal public funds.

Despite such an unprecedented theft, not a single person involved in the A3 case will spend a day behind bars. McManus and Schrock were both sentenced to four years – but both have already been in ankle monitors, on home confinement. They both will get credit for time served. Several other key players had their felonies reduced to misdemeanors and two defendants essentially had their charges dropped for cooperating in the investigation…

Prosecutors weighed “multiple factors including accountability, restitution and early acceptance of guilt” in resolving the case, wrote Steve Walker, the spokesman, in an email.

Walker called the resolution of the case “just” and pointed to “the unprecedented return of more than $240 million from the hands of the defendants back to those it was originally intended for, helping K through 12 students in the state.”

The leaders of the A3 grift were Sean McManus and Jason Schrock.

McManus worked in the charter school industry for several years before he opened 19 online charter schools with Schrock. A3’s first school was authorized by Dehesa Elementary School District in East County. Dehesa only had around 150 students at the time. And yet McManus and Schrock’s school went onto enroll many thousands of students. That’s because an online charter school can draw students from the county it is located in, as well as each adjoining county.

The central component of the A3 scam involved enrolling students, who never actually took any classes, into A3 schools. To boost A3’s head count, enrollment workers would approach summer athletic programs. The enrollment workers would get each summer athlete to sign what’s known as a master agreement. That master agreement would un-enroll each student from their normal school and into an A3 school for the summer. For each summer student A3 brought in several thousand dollars. Schrock and McManus paid a commission to each of their enrollment workers and gave a so-called donation, based on the number of players that signed up, as an incentive to each athletic program.

Another part of the scam involved working with private schools. A3 would approach, for instance, a small Catholic school. The students at the school would be added to A3’s attendance rolls. The state’s public education system would dispense money to A3 for each of those students. A3 would then give some of that money to the private school – some of them were struggling financially – and pocket the rest.

McManus was charged with multiple crimes that added up to as many as 40 years in prison. In the end he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to steal public funds and was sentenced to four years in state prison. He waived his rights to any revenue connected to the charter schools or any connected business, paid roughly $19 million in fines and had his 401(k) seized…

Schrock calls himself an “Educational Business Leader” on his LinkedIn profile. He lists himself as CEO of Learning Re: Defined, “a Christian company of educational leaders and program developers who cultivate and provide training modules and curriculum built to meet client needs,” according to the company’s Facebook page.

Schrock, who also faced multiple charges with a maximum penalty of roughly 40 years in prison, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one charge of breaking state conflict of interest laws. He spent 1,506 days in an ankle monitor and was credited with time served. He also paid roughly $19 million in fines and will also serve three years probation.

The article describes the other leaders of the scheme. Open the link and read about them.

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Michael Hiltzik shows that California’s strict gun laws have reduced gun deaths, although their biggest foe is the federal judiciary, especially Trump-appointed judges.

The most predictable response by the gun lobby and its political mouthpieces to calls for stricter gun laws in the wake of mass shootings is that tough laws don’t work.

You’ve probably heard all the arguments: That we already have tough laws on the books, that the problem is they aren’t enforced. Or that the legislation most often proposed wouldn’t have stopped the latest perpetrator of the latest gun-related horror, such as Uvalde gunman Salvador Ramos.

None of that is true, and California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, is the proof.

As we’ve reported before, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that overall firearm deaths in California, at 8.5 per 100,000 population in 2020, easily bests the rates in states with lax controls, such as Texas (14.2 per 100,000) and Louisiana (26.3).

The disparity is especially sharp when it comes to firearm deaths of those under 18. California’s rate is about half that of the national average, less than half that of Texas, and only about one-fourth that of Louisiana. 

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It’s true that California has not been immune from the national epidemic of mass shootings. But its laws have had a measurable, positive impact. “California has not solved the problem of mass shootings,” says Ari Freilich, state policy director at the gun safety organization Giffords. “But California children are half as likely to be shot.” 

Let’s examine the key elements of California’s laws, and how they might have interfered with the latest major gun-related outrages — the killings of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, and the killings of 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 14.

California’s firearms regulations are among the most comprehensive in America. Assault weapons, defined partially by their manufacturer and partially by their features, have been banned since 1989. Purchasers of any firearm must do so through a registered dealer and submit to a background checkammunition sales are also regulated.

Handguns can’t be sold to anyone under 21, and with certain exceptions to transfer other firearms to anyone under 18. All purchases require a waiting period of at least 10 days, or more if certain formalities haven’t been completed, such as a firearm safety course and passage of a test. Most are barred from buying more than one gun a month.

Uvalde, Texas May 26, 2022- Family members walk away after living flowers at a memorial outside Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen students and two teachers died when a gunman opened fire in a classroom Tuesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

BUSINESS

Column: Uvalde demonstrates our cowardice about guns

June 1, 2022

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Open carry of loaded firearms is generally prohibited, as is concealed carry of a loaded weapon without a license.

California also has a so-called red flag law, or “extreme risk protection orders,” which allow family members, police, employers or school personnel to alert authorities to signs of danger from a person and for a judge to order the confiscation of weapons from that person.

The California constitution has no provision protecting the right to bear arms. State law preempts all local initiatives.

Perhaps you remember the A3 charter scam in California. The online charter chain managed to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from the state for ghost students. Its leaders were eventually arrested, charged, and convicted. They are still repaying their ill-gotten gains.

Kristina Taketa of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the latest installment of their restitution was $18.8 million.

She writes:

An additional $18.8 million has been paid to San Diego County as restitution for the statewide A3 charter school scam in which the state was defrauded of hundreds of millions of school dollars, the San Diego County District Attorney announced Wednesday.

Sean McManus of Australia, along with Jason Schrock of Long Beach, led a statewide charter school scheme from 2016 to 2019 in which they used a network of mostly online charter schools to defraud the state of approximately $400 million and used $50 million of that amount for personal use. They did so by falsely enrolling students and manipulating enrollment and attendance reporting across their schools to get more money per student than schools are supposed to, prosecutors said.

In total, about $240 million of the $400 million has been recovered. The District Attorney’s Office said it is not trying to get back all of the $400 million because some of the money ended up going to noncriminal actors, such as teachers, youth programs and others, who provided services for the A3 schools and who did not know the money was obtained illegally.

Of the $240 million that has been recovered, about $95 million has been returned to the state treasury, with an additional $90 million expected to be returned to the state within the next few months.

Debbie L. Sklar of the Times of San Diego provided more details on how the scam worked.

More than $37 million in fines has been paid to San Diego County as part of a court judgment stemming from a charter school fraud scheme that took millions in public school funds and led to criminal charges against 11 people, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

The total fine amount includes $18.75 million recently paid by Sean McManus, CEO and president of A3 Education, who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $50 million in public funds and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors say McManus and co-defendant Jason Schrock directed subordinates to open up 19 “A3 charter schools” in San Diego County and elsewhere across the state, and collected state funds by alleging students were enrolled in programs run by the schools.

The District Attorney’s Office, which called the case “one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes targeting taxpayer dollars intended for primary education,” said the men paid for student information and used the info to enroll children in summer school programs at their online campuses. Prosecutors say some parents were unaware their children were enrolled in a charter school at all.

The defendants then took measures to inflate the amount of money the state paid the charter schools by falsifying documentation, which included backdating documents to indicate that students were enrolled in the charter schools for longer than they were or switching students between different A3 schools to increase funding per student or per school beyond legal limits, prosecutors said.

The perpetrators were very clever and very, very rich until they were caught.

In a curious coincidence, I had breakfast at a hotel in January 2019 in Newport Beach, California, with a friend. At the table next to us sat a man and woman discussing education and a business transaction. I tried not to eavesdrop, yet found myself fascinated by the curious combination of topics. As they got up to leave, I stopped the man and said, “Excuse me, but I wonder if you are in the charter school business.” He responded, “Yes, I am Sean McManus, and I run a chain of charter schools.” The boom fell not long after.

This is good news! Although it is too late to listen to the news conference, it is wonderful to hear that California is making a historic investment in community schools! I note that only “credentialed media” were allowed to join, so don’t feel bad about missing an event to which you were not invited!

California Teachers Association June 6, 2022

www.cta.org

 

Contact: NewsDesk@cta.org

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today, Educators, Parents, Community Organizers, State Education Leaders to Hold Virtual News Conference to Mark California’s Historic Commitment to Community Schools

Governor Newsom, SPI Tony Thurmond and SBE Pres. Linda Darling-Hammond Join Event

BURLINGAME – Transformative change is on the horizon for many public schools after the recent approval of $649 million in grants to create and expand community schools in California – part of California’s seven-year, $3 billion investment in community schools, the largest in the nation.

Today at 11 a.m., CTA President E. Toby Boyd and Vice President David Goldberg will be joined by Governor Gavin Newsom; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond; State Board of Education President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond; Dr. Karen Hunter Quartz, Director, UCLA Center for Community Schooling; Californians for Justice; and local community, parent, student and educator organizers for a virtual press conference to discuss the significance of California’s investment in community schools. Community schools are particularly relevant after a pandemic that has exposed the racial, economic and learning divides that get in the way of student success.

“The traditional school year may be coming to a close for many students, but our work on community schools is just beginning,” said CTA President E. Toby Boyd. “Educators know it will take resources, support and a community effort to create schools that disrupt poverty. It is going to require meaningful educator, community and parent engagement to give all students the schools they deserve with a robust curriculum, support services and a commitment to shared leadership.”

WHO: The California Teachers Association is hosting a virtual news conference to celebrate California’s historic commitment to community schools, the largest in the nation.

E. Toby Boyd, CTA President

Gavin Newsom, Governor, State of California

Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President, State Board of Education

David Goldberg, CTA Vice President

Tony Thurmond, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Dr. Karen Hunter Quartz, Director, UCLA Center for Community Schooling

Joel Vaca, Community School Coordinator, Los Angeles School of Global Studies, Los Angeles

Diana Matias Carillo, 11th grade student, Fremont High School, Oakland, Californians for Justice

Karla Garcia, parent of a rising 6th grader at Palms Elementary School, Los Angeles, and member of Palms Community Schools Leadership Council

Francisco Ortiz, 5th grade teacher and Vice President, United Teachers Richmond

WHAT: Virtual News Conference on California’s transformative commitment to community schools

WHEN: Monday, June 6, 2022
11:00 a.m.

WHERE: Credentialed media only. RSVP to NewsDesk@cta.org for Zoom link to join. Spanish speakers available. Also available via Facebook Live.


Community schools are built on four pillars: 1) providing services for students that address barriers to learning, including health, mental health or social service needs, 2) providing added academic support and real-world learning opportunities like internships, 3) family and community engagement, and 4) collaborative leadership that establishes a culture of shared responsibility.

Take a closer look at CTA’s leadership and advocacy on community schools. More than 268 school districts and county offices of education were recently awarded community schools planning and implementation grants around the state.

 

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The 310,000-member California Teachers Association is affiliated with the 3-million-member National Education Association.

 

Claudia Briggs, Interim Communications Manager, California Teachers Association (EST 1863)

916.325.1550 (office) | 916.296.4087 (cell) | cbriggs@cta.org

A three judge federal appeals court struck down California’s ban on selling assault weapons to those from 18-21. Two of the three judges were appointed by Trump. Ironic that this decision was issued a week before an 18-year-old used an AR-15 assault weapon to murder 10 people in Buffalo, New York. As of this date, there have been more than 200 multiple killings by firearms since the beginning of the year.

California enacted the law to reduce gun violence and protect the lives of its citizens. The Court’s reasoning was as vapid as the meanderings of the man who appointed them.

A U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday that California’s ban on the sale of semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 is unconstitutional.

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday the law violates the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and a San Diego judge should have blocked what it called “an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles” for young adults. “America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” Judge Ryan Nelson wrote.

Nelson added: “Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms.”

Trump’s toxic legacy, directed by Mitch McConnell and the Federalist Society, lives on in the numerous judges he appointed to the federal bench.

The persistent charter school boasting looks empty after years of turmoil. Schools opening and closing, high teacher turnover, unfulfilled promises. Result: California saw a decline in charter enrollment for the first time in three decades.

It’s not for a lack of money to promote charters. The big money is still there. The California Charter Schools Association is still a wealthy and powerful organization.

Something has changed. Could it be that parents are choosing their local public schools?

Jeff Bryant writes here about the decision by the Oakland, California, school board to close a number of schools because of a budget shortfall. Some of these schools were popular Community schools, offering services that benefited children, families, and the community. Bryant shows that the closure of these schools would not solve the budget shortfall.

Many readers of this blog used a Zoom link provided by friends in Oakland to listen to the crucial meeting of the school board when the vote was taken. I listened for four hours, as hundreds of students and parents spoke out against the closure of their beloved school. Not a single student or parent during the four hours I listened supported the closings.

The board was unmoved. Two members—Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams— voted against the closings, but the majority voted yea.

One of those who voted for the closings just announced that she was resigning. Shanthi Gonzalez is not waiting for the next election. She claimed that she was interested only in raising academic quality when she supported closing schools.

Shanthi Gonzales, who represents District 6 on the Oakland Unified School District board, announced Monday that she is stepping down from her position immediately, seven months before her term is set to expire.

In a lengthy public statement published on her blog on Monday morning, Gonzales denounced the increasingly hostile discourse surrounding public education in Oakland, which has led to protests, strikes, and personal insults lobbed at school board members. She also called out the lack of progress the district has made in supporting students’ academic needs, and slammed the Oakland Education Association teachers union and its supporters for resisting moves to improve the quality of schools…

Along with board president Gary Yee, Gonzales introduced a resolution in December for the board to consider closing schools because of deep financial troublesbrought on in part by years of declining enrollment. That resolution led to the board’s February decision to close seven schools over the next two years, and merge or downsize several others. Three of the schools slated for closure, Community Day School, Parker K-8, and Carl B. Munck Elementary School, are in Gonzales’ district. null

Opposition to the district’s closure and consolidation plan has been fierce. In recent months, community members have held marches, two educators have staged a hunger strike, and protesters have rallied outside the homes of Gonzales and other school board members. The Oakland Education Association teachers union staged a one-day strike that effectively shut down classes this past Friday. School board meetings have also been contentious, with regular heckling and disruptions at in-person meetings.

All the members who voted for the closings should be voted out of office.

The two members who opposed the schools’ closings are Mike Hutchinson and VanCedric Williams. They are true leaders.

Sacramento City Unified School District teachers, school staff and supporters take part in a rally at Rosemont High School

Sacramento City Unified School District teachers, school staff and supporters take part in a rally at Rosemont High School on March 28 as they have been gone on strike due to the staffing crisis in the district . All SCUSD schools shut down and will remain closed for the duration of the strike.

I have read many articles about the shortage of teachers and school staff. I have read many that were laden with statistics. This is one of the best. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

BY ANITA CHABRIA COLUMNIST

A few weeks ago, Sacramento teacher Kacie Go had 56 kids for second period.

That day, there were 109 students at her eighth- through 12th-grade school who were without an instructor because of staff shortages. So she crammed the students into her room and made it work, but “it’s not sustainable,” she said.

No kidding.

Go told me the story standing with hundreds of other teachers and support staff Tuesday morning in the parking lot of an empty high school, as “We’re Not Gonna Take It” blared from speakers and the mostly female workers gathered for day five of a strike that has closed down schools in the Capitol City.

Like Go, these teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and instructional aides are fed up with being asked to do more with less. It’s a problem that goes beyond the Sacramento City Unified School District, with 48,000 students in 81 schools. Frustration among teachers and school workers is rampant across California — pushed to a breaking point by the pandemic and a shortage of more than 11,000 credentialed teachers and thousands of support staff as the state tries to expand pre-kindergarten and bring 10,000 mental health counselors on campuses.

From school closure protests in Oakland to Sacramento’s all-in strike, those who work in our schools are telling us they cannot do this job under the conditions we are imposing. These include mediocre pay, sometimes vicious political blowback from COVID-19 safety measures, a witch-hunt-like scrutiny around hot-button topics, a mental health crisis, the reality of too few people doing the work, and the general disrespect of a society that swears it loves teachers and values education but does little to invest in it. Worrying about school shooters, once an urgent concern of educators and parents, doesn’t even make the top three problems anymore.

It’s the same story playing out in hundreds of other districts not just in California but across the country. Minneapolis teachers just ended a 14-day strike that shared some of the same issues of pay and support, underscored by the same teacher chagrin that we talk a good game about supporting public education but don’t always come through with actions. Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Chapter President Greta Callahan summed it up, sounding like she could be standing in Sacramento.

“We shouldn’t have had to [have] gone on strike to win any of these things, any of these critical supports for our students, but we did,” she said.

Go, who has been a teacher for 20 years and earned a master’s degree along the way — bringing her to the top of the district’s salary scale at just more than $100,000 a year — estimates she’s losing about $500 a day during the walkout.

But she’s more worried about support staff such as Katie Santora, a cafeteria worker who was also on the picket line.

Santora is the lead nutrition services worker at a high school, expected to churn out 1,500 meals a day between breakfast and lunch — with a staff of nine people (though they started the year with only five). Most are part-timers because the district doesn’t want to pay them benefits, and they make about minimum wage.

Santora, with 13 years at the district, makes $18.98 an hour for what is essentially a management role. She’s in charge of ordering, planning, receiving and keeping the joint running.

On the last day before the strike, that included making popcorn chicken bowls for lunch. What does that look like? Five 30-pound cases of chicken, oven-baked, 22 bags of potatoes, boiled and mashed, corn and gravy — all assembled after her staff finished making steak breakfast burritos and scrambled egg bowls. Did I mention every student is required to take a piece of fruit, which means washing somewhere along the lines of 1,700 apples?

Santora says high schoolers are the “most misunderstood” people on the planet, teetering between child and adult. Their well-being, she says, depends on being fed so “their bellies aren’t rumbling in class” and seeing a friendly face when they walk in her cafeteria. She loves delivering both.

“When they come through the line, I like to say, ‘Thank you for having lunch with me,’” she says.

But the money isn’t enough to pay her bills. Four or five nights a week, she gets about an hour at home before she heads to her second job loading grocery bags for delivery drivers at Whole Foods. She’s working two jobs just to pay for the privilege of doing the one she likes.

Go, the teacher, feels the hardships in other ways. One of her twin daughters recently had a “pretty severe concussion,” she said, but Go felt like she couldn’t stay home with her. If she did, one of her co-workers would likely be stuck with a jampacked classroom — and all the other unofficial jobs she has to do on a daily basis, from fill-in parent to police officer to relationship advisor when her teenage students’ hormones go into overdrive. Substitutes are hard to come by, she thinks, because the pay — $224 a day — isn’t competitive compared with other jobs with less stress.

“Subs don’t have an easy life,” Go said. “Why would you want to do that when you could go to In-N-Out and worry about if it’s animal-style or not for the same amount of money?”

The unions involved in the Sacramento strike contend that there are hundreds of open positions in the district in virtually every job. Nikki Milevsky, a school psychologist and vice president of the teachers union, puts it at 250 vacancies for teachers and 400 for classified staff — in a district with 2,069 teachers and 1,656 classified staff. That classified staff and teachers walked out together shows the depth of problems in Sacramento — it’s unusual for both to strike at the same time, and it has forced schools to shut down because there was no one left but administrators to watch kids.

Chris McCarthy, a first grade teacher in the Sacramento Unified School District, joined other teachers, parents, students and supporters, in the rain at a rally in support of their strike against the school district at Rosemont High School in Sacramento.

The teachers union says that 10,000 students lack a permanent instructor, and on some days, up to 3,000 don’t even have a substitute. About 547 kids who signed up for independent study haven’t been given a teacher yet, meaning they are learning nothing.

The district says it’s down 127 certificated staff and 293 classified positions. Take the difference as you will, but the district doesn’t dispute it’s in a staffing crisis.

Sacramento teachers want a pay raise to make the district more competitive in hiring. Right now, some surrounding districts pay more but have lesser benefit packages. (Please don’t make me tell you that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.) The teachers want the district to back off of a proposal to make current and retired teachers pay hundreds more to keep a non-HMO health plan. The district says it has made an offer of a pay increase and recruitment bonus and a one-year stipend to offset the health plan issue.

From there it turns contentious. Teachers reject the district’s offer as lowball and assert there is money available to do better, just not the will to invest it in staff. The district says the teachers need to compromise because it can’t afford all of their asks.

For days, there were no negotiations. State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond tried to bring everyone to the table, only to be rebuffed by the district. Back home again instead of in the classroom, my eighth grader, a student in Sacramento schools, ate lots of chocolate chip pancakes and watched “Turning Red” on repeat.

There is no end in sight. Though negotiations with both unions have resumed, the shutdown is another blow to parents and families already anxious and stressed out. The last time my daughter had a normal school year, she was in fifth grade. So I understand the frustration, and even anger, of parents that schools are once again closed — and the resentment of parents across the state who are sick and tired of problems with schools, many of which predate the pandemic.

But I went to the strike line three times and I can tell you this — it’s not about the money for these teachers. You can roll your eyes at the unions all you want, but these teachers and support staff want their schools to work, for their students, for themselves, and for our collective future. Because democracy depends on an educated populace and education is a right. And because they are educators, and they’re invested in our kids.

Go doesn’t want to do anything else but teach, even if it means 56 kids sometimes. Even if it means losing $500 a day and striking. Even if it means making some people mad to make schools better.

“I freakin’ love it,” she said. “I do.”