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Teachers Balk At Summer School Cancellation In Bakersfield

Mar 5, 2019

A large group of mostly teachers stands outside the door of the Bakersfield City School District’s board meeting. 

“Let us in! Let us in!” they shout.

They’re angry because there’s not enough space in the boardroom for all the teachers who want to voice their concerns.

“All of a sudden, we’ve got an authoritarian type of administration here at the district where people are excluded rather than included? I’m so disappointed,” says educator Mary Helen Barro. She made it inside the meeting, but a large crowd still waits outside.

She’s one of at least 100 people here to protest the school board’s decision to cancel summer school this year.

“I’m here to plead with you to reconsider your decision to cancel summer school,” she says. “I understand that you say, ‘Well, attendance has dropped to about 3,000.’ Three thousand is more than attend some of our high schools. Give me a break! This is not acceptable.”

Teachers wait in the lobby outside the board meeting because the house is packed.
Credit Christina Lopez

As the meeting continues, many teachers remain inside the small lobby area outside the boardroom. Most are dressed in red for solidarity; some stand for an entire two hours.

Bertha Mercado-Singleton is one of them.  She’s a dual immersion kindergarten teacher. 

“It’s almost a joke. When you think about what the motto is for our district, where the child comes first, and they aren’t demonstrated that. The children don’t come first and neither do the teachers,” she says.

She’s upset that students will miss out on basic support services. 

“A lot of children that come to summer school don’t have that support at home and so without summer school, they not only don’t have the academic support, a lot of the kids won’t even have the two meals that they’re allowed during summer school,” she says.

Nearly 2,000 teachers from the district received a letter in late December announcing the cut as well as other budget constraints.

“It was a surprise to everyone,” says kindergarten teacher Paloma Tucker. “I’m aware of the financial situation that’s going on. My opinion is students are the reason we’re here; students are the reason we get our funding.”

Teachers make about $3,300 to teach summer school for 13 days. Tucker says people rely on that extra money.

“We’re not paid in the summer when we’re not working,” she says.

Concerned community member Reville Niccolls says there’s not enough time for every teacher to speak at the board meeting. So he turns to the crowd instead.

“I’ve cut my comments because I’m speaking from the heart to my community for my children. And I’ve got one last question, not for them but for you. “Whose house?” he asks the crowd. People respond, “Our house!”

Superintendent Doc Ervin (left) says budget constraints prevented the district from offering summer school this year.
Credit Christina Lopez

After the meeting, Superintendent Doc Ervin says opening up a second room just isn’t a part of the board’s practices.

“Do we say every time someone says, ‘We’re gonna bring in a large crowd’ we open up the auditorium? No, we don’t do that. The bottom line is, remember, it’s the board’s meeting in public, not the public meeting with the board.”

He says summer school was postponed this year because of budget constraints affecting the district including transportation costs, special education funding, and health insurance for teachers.

“You start talking about losing people’s jobs, they will lose their mind. Remember, our district has not laid off any employee due to budgetary issues. So, we’re trying to keep our district fiscally solvent,” he says.

Although summer school won’t be in session this year, Ervin says the district plans to revise it for the following year.   

“So we’re really trying to put a system in place like high performing districts to give the kid the support he or she needs to be successful throughout the entire year versus 13 days in the summer. He leaves June 13th but we don’t see him again until August 18th and someone says, ‘Well, he’s retained all that.’ Ok. But it wasn’t focusing on remediation, it was a lot more enrichment,” he says.

A vote on the revisions for the 2020 summer school program is set for the end of April.