East Texans plan to join protests over school cuts
POSTED: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 7:29am
UPDATED: Monday, March 14, 2011 - 2:01pm
LUFKIN — The Texas American Federation of Teachers, including 60 local members, hopes to take the state Capitol by storm Monday.
Teachers, staff and parents from Lufkin, Central and Nacogdoches will join 3,000 other AFT members to express their concerns about potential cuts in public school funding.
Stephen Wright, AFT field representative in Lufkin, said this is the largest local group they’ve ever taken to Lobby Day.
“People are more concerned than they have ever been because of the budget crisis,” Wright said, adding that during the last legislative session only 10 local AFT members attended Lobby Day. “We can’t complain if we don’t go to Austin and have our voices heard. The teachers are concerned, frustrated and even angry. Their anger is directed to legislators in Austin. Some of this might boil down to jobs and their love of kids. We hear all the time how important education is, but we still have legislators not wanting to tap the Rainy Day Fund. If we’re so important, why not back that up with action?”
Wright said AFT advocates using the entire $9.4 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, as well as making changes to the process of funding school districts.
“We’re just trying to survive,” Wright said, “but with the structural deficit, we’ll have this problem each session.”
Local AFT members will meet with state Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and state Rep. James White (R-Hillister) during the visit Monday. A rally with all members will be at noon on the Capitol steps.
Special education and AFT building representative at Lufkin High School, Guyla Bryan, said she feels like the step-child of what is happening in the state.
“We have finally come to the point that we’ve got to step out,” Bryan said. “We have to let our (elected) officials know we won’t be stepped on. We work hard, and we deserve some respect.”
She also said there is power in numbers and hopes the strong representation from AFT members will make a difference Monday.
“Instead of one person addressing an issue, you have a bargaining power of increased numbers,” Bryan said. “You feel safer in a group than you do by yourself — it goes back to that basic instinct. When you’re talking about middle America, that’s teachers. There is not one teacher in the entire state of Texas without a college degree. We are in the top percent of people who are highly educated. We are doing the most important job and that’s educating America’s youth.”
Garrett Primary kindergarten teacher Ermelinda Enriquez said this will be her first Lobby Day experience.
Ordinarily, she and her family rest and relax during Spring Break, but she wanted to go to Austin and glean more information about the financial situation plaguing the minds of teachers statewide.
“I’m excited about going, but I’m not really sure what to expect,” Enriquez said. “With everything that is going on, it is going to affect us one way or another. We want them to know we are listening, and we are concerned about the things they are doing.”
Wright said it is the teachers’ responsibility to let legislators know the ins and outs of the public education system.
“They are the experts on the front lines,” Wright said. “We want to make sure that Rep. White and Sen. Nichols are on board with what our members need. We want to make sure that they’re properly funding our schools.”
AFT is the only statewide teacher organization with regional offices, which Wright said adds to their credibility among educational staff. The local branch has about 700 to 750 members.
“Why we’re distinct is we don’t operate out of Austin,” Wright said. “There are 38 regional offices, and we’ve been here in Lufkin since 2007. We’re here full time. You don’t have to talk to a faceless person in Austin. We lobby harder than any other organization.”
Bryan agreed AFT is the best organization she has worked with in her 20-year tenure at Lufkin ISD.
“I believe in our organization,” Bryan said. “Of all the teacher organizations in the state — and I think I’ve been a member of them all — AFT is the most influential. I’ve seen the actions they take, the benefits they offer and the influence they have.”