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‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ Teachers Cry

February 27, 2010

By Joanna Moreno
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Hundreds of teachers, parents and students descended on the state Capitol today to protest what many say could be devastating cuts to public education by the General Assembly.

Gathering around the Bell Tower as it struck 11, educators from across the state protested the spending cuts proposed in the House’s budget, as the song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister blasted from the speakers.

“What are we not going to do?” asked David Oberg, president of Blue Ridge Uniserv, a combination of local education associations in central Virginia. The crowd responded: “We’re not going to take it!”

[Here is Joanna Moreno’s slide show of the rally.]

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The General Assembly is considering two different budgets in the House and Senate. The Senate budget proposes cuts of $113 million from education, while the House proposes $472 million dollars in cuts.

Oberg said the Senate budget still would create dramatic cuts in education, but he doesn’t know how public school systems will survive if the House budget passes. He said the rally was a “true grassroots” effort on the part of Orange County educators.

Saturday’s rally was the idea of Lori Gues, an Orange County bus driver and vice president of the Orange County Education Association. She came up with the idea after hearing how strongly Orange County Superintendent Robert Grimesey felt about the budget cuts. Orange County is facing 81 layoffs this year, in addition to 50 last year.

Hundreds of protesters showed up with handmade signs that said “Cuts hurt kids,” “Save our schools” and “Our future is education.”

Rob Jones, director of government relations for the Virginia Education Association, spoke at the rally. He said the House budget will hurt many programs and will cut 22,000 jobs from kindergarten through high school, while the Senate budget will cut 15,000 positions.

Rebecca Pitman, a student at Orange County High School, said that with fewer teachers, many children may fall behind, especially elementary students. She suggested raising income taxes rather than cutting teachers. Many attendees echoed her suggestion.

Kathy Burcher, who chairs the Legislation Committee for the Virginia PTA, also spoke at the rally. Hundreds of teachers will soon be out of a job, schools are being consolidated and many extracurricular programs and resources will be eliminated, she said.

“The budget proposals make learning in a cold, dark school after being transported on 15-year-old school buses the new definition of quality education in Virginia,” Burcher said.

Sen. Edward Houck, who represents Orange County, spoke in support of the Senate’s budget proposal. “Fellow educators, fellow parents, education should be and must be No. 1 in Virginia,” Houck said.

Kyle Wormuth, a reading specialist and member of the Orange County Education Association, is credited for promoting the event through Facebook.

“It is the face-to-face conversations that make the difference. It’s going to each person you know and saying, ‘We can still change this,'” Wormuth said. If the House budget passes, he said, counties won’t be able to keep any reading specialists.

Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, said legislators shouldn’t balance the budget at the expense of children. She said that the General Assembly should find a “balanced approach” and suggested raising taxes instead of cutting core services.

Erin Edwards, a first-year teacher from Pulaski, came to the rally to protest against education cuts. She fears losing her job.

“The thought of losing my job – it just scares me to think now that I finally have my dream, it’s going to be flushed down the drain,” she said.

Andrew Swartz, a local Richmond artist, came to the rally holding a large empty frame above his head. The frame, he said, is supposed to signify cuts in the arts.

“No art teachers, no art,” Swartz said. He said his art teachers had a great influence on him as child in the public school system.

“It saddens me that my state is falling down a slippery slope,” said Swartz, who has two children in the Richmond Public Schools.

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This story was published by such CNS clients as The Gainesville Times and radio station WTOP