Protesting Teachers Shut Down School Board Meeting

“We’re 500 teachers who have been lied to, swindled and cheated by this board," said one protestor

Published : Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 9:31 PM

Unable to quiet hundreds of protesting teachers chanting “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Benefit Cap has got to go,” Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education President Renatta Cooper adjourned the Board of Education meeting on Thursday five minutes after it began.

Beginning the protest on the street before the meeting, teachers then poured into the board room, filled the hallway and chanted as loudly as they could, even parading in and out the two doors leading into the board room once the meeting began.

“We’re 500 teachers who have been lied to, swindled and cheated by this board. We have to let them know. Teachers don’t get comfortable. Get mad. Get serious because this is your livelihoods, mine too. I’m tired of being a teacher beggar. We shouldn’t have to beg what they’ve promised us,” Special Education teacher Jacquelyn Bailey said who teaches at Norma Coombs.

The United Teachers of Pasadena Labor Union has now received three proposals by the school district for the new health and welfare benefits and will continue negotiations on Friday, November 22 where they will counter the district’s last offer made two weeks prior on November 8.

“What makes it even more insulting is that they’ve had a surplus in their budget for the last few years. They keep saying they have a deficit but at the end of the year they have a surplus. Two years ago it was $16 million, one year ago it was $12 million and they’re projecting at the end of this year to have a surplus of $10 million and yet they want us to take on these increases,” Vice President of the United Teachers of Pasadena Karen Kobey said.

The school district wants to place a cap on the amount the district would pay out per member to fund Health and Welfare Plans including dental. The teachers voiced concern that over time the health benefits will rise in cost and take away from their paycheck.

“We want to let them know they have to listen to us now because they haven’t in the past. They sit up here and text on their phones while were trying to talk to them, its ridiculous. If they can’t have their meeting tonight, they’re going to have to come back on another night and they’re going to have a full plate, just like we do, so there,” Laurel Ware said.

Although the school district staff made efforts to close the doors to quiet the tone of the chanters, the doors were thrust open again. Even on a microphone, Cooper’s voice could not be heard above the roar. When she adjourned the meeting deafening cheers rose from the crowd followed by more chanting, “WE’LL BE BACK, WE’LL BE BACK.”

The chanters did not stop until every board member left the room.

One chanter yelled out, “She can’t keep order in her own meeting and she can’t manage our school district.”

PUSD Board President Renatta Cooper said she did not have a choice but to adjourn the meeting. She also said she was sorry the student representatives had to witness the protest (one Muir student delivering a report was completely drowned out), however a  representative from Rose City High School joined in and stood holding a sign in support of the teachers as soon as the words left Cooper’s mouth.

“I adjourned the meeting because it doesn’t appear like they’re going to be orderly. If this behavior is going to continue we really can’t hold a meeting and I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” Cooper said.

The teachers are expectant of fully restored and enhanced benefits and salary after facing cuts in the past.

“We clearly heard the teachers tonight. The negotiations are in process, so I’m hopeful we can find a middle ground that everyone will be satisfied,” PUSD School Board member Tom Selinske said.

Currently the Pasadena Unified School district is ranked 8th by LA County School Districts for paying out maximum Health and Welfare benefits. The district currently pays out more than $17,000 per member in benefits at the maximum.

“The cost of health benefits are going to dramatically increase year after year and the district is asking us to pay 100 percent of those increases every year and so at some point I’m going to be taking a salary cut,” Kobey said.

Sieran Schanen added, “At least she knows were serious. Healthcare will cost one fifth of my salary. We’ve had no raises and furloughs. They have been squeezing us forever, it’s too much.”

The teachers said they would return to the next board meeting and the next until they are heard.

“I will be loud and I will be proud. Teachers are united, we have to unite to beat this,” Bailey said.