By Alma Sanchez, 17, Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet HS
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Alma says that if you see problems at your school, try to change them.

In the past I would hear about school budget cuts on the news and I wouldn’t pay attention. I thought that only teachers at big schools got laid off because these schools have larger budgets. I thought that my small school of 850 students would never be affected.

That changed this year, when I heard about several teachers getting pink slips. In March, my friend told me that the librarian, the magnet coordinator and the art teacher were getting laid off. I couldn’t believe it. I said to my friend, “How does the district expect students to get higher test scores if they lay off teachers?”

I thought it was impossible to lay off the librarian because all schools should have a librarian. People go to our library to use the computers, hang out and check out books. Our librarian, Ms. Valdez, tells us about opportunities outside of school. She told me about and helped me apply to a summer program that teaches women about the entertainment industry and broadcasting. Since we’re a medical magnet, she puts out a medical exhibit each month about different topics, like hemophilia, glaucoma and sexually transmitted diseases. This year she organized our first Career Day, bringing about 35 professionals to school for students to talk to. The library is the heart of our school. I can’t imagine her gone and the library closed.

Our popular art teacher might lose her job

Ms. Santana has been our only art teacher since the school opened in 2004. Even though we will get another art teacher, I can tell you that art will not be the same without her. When I needed help drawing my self-portrait, she gave me tips like tracing the outline of my face from a photo of myself. Ms. Santana won a grant that allowed her to buy art supplies. Students always talk to her about their problems. She was our art coach for Academic Decathlon. She bought snacks with her own money and designed our team sweatshirts. She loves my school but she loves the students even more. No teacher can replace Ms. Santana, no matter how good that teacher might be.

Students at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High have been protesting before school every Friday since they learned about teacher layoffs. Photo by Mr. Tran, a math teacher at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet HS


Even though I’m a senior, I still care about what happens at my school. My brother is in 10th grade and he goes to my school. If these teachers are gone, students like my brother won’t get the same opportunities I had.

The way they decide who to lay off is unfair

My principal, Mr. Mata, told me that teachers were getting laid off based on seniority. Seniority means teachers who have been working for the district the longest will keep their jobs, while newer teachers, well, they are out of luck. This is just wrong. Why doesn’t the district lay off teachers based on performance, ability and feedback from staff, teachers and students?

Mr. Mata explained that because of the bad economy, the state has less money to give to school districts. The Los Angeles Unified School District decided to lay off magnet coordinators and close libraries. He also showed me a letter from the superintendent that stated that they “plan for the worst-case scenario” by giving pink slips to 7,302 of their 38,000 teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators. They may lose their positions on June 30. I was even more surprised when he told me that four out of 34 teachers at my school might get laid off, in addition to the librarian and magnet coordinator.

Since the district isn’t sure how much money it will have for next school year, we don’t know the exact number of people who will get laid off. According to Mr. Mata, LAUSD has come up with four budget plans. The worst-case scenario was if Governor Brown’s proposal to extend some taxes for five more years doesn’t pass and unions don’t compromise about furlough days, the district would have to cut $408 million from its budget. The best scenario is if the Governor’s proposal passes and the district and unions reach a compromise. Everyone hopes for the last scenario because that would mean fewer teachers losing their jobs. Sadly, this is the fourth year of cuts in a row.

I also learned that schools can use any extra money they have to save positions and pay a year’s salary. My school’s Site Council could afford to save only two of the six positions being cut so they saved two teaching positions.

This is not fair. There was no announcement that the committee was going to discuss the budget for next year, so there were only two students at the meeting. If more students were told about it, more would have shown up. I’d argue for keeping the librarian. Cut the staff who take care of the hallways. Cut the security guard. A teacher who can teach you to write better is more necessary than someone who tells you “No eating in the hall.” Or get parent volunteers to do these “watch” jobs.

After interviewing my principal, I understood that budget cuts are necessary, but I think that everyone in the district is distant from students and they don’t really know what’s best for us. I think teens can have more impact if we get informed, participate in protests and go to those “boring” committee meetings—you might save a teacher. Let’s use our voice and tell LAUSD: “Stop robbing my education!”

Other stories by this writer:

Wait don’t recycle that yet. Alma, 17, realized that taking notes on old handouts is an easy way to help the environment. (September 2010)