35-hour protest targets School District cuts

Anchorage Daily NewsJune 10, 2012 

Parents, students and a few teachers protested on the Park Strip along Minnesota Drive on Sunday with a potpourri of signs to put attention on teacher layoffs in the Anchorage School District.

"Think Education Is Expensive?" one sign said. "Try Ignorance!!!!!"

"Teacher Layoffs In This State. Really?!!?" another said.

The group started gathering at 6 a.m. Sunday and planned to go for 35 hours.

About 35 teachers and 20 support staff members received layoff notices in the spring, but the number who ultimately will lose jobs because of a budget crunch is still being determined.

The sign-wielding crowd had several names for the effort: "35 hours for 35 teachers," "Occupy ASD" and "Restore 35." Some played guitar. Some knitted. Kids made signs and painted boards to represent the groups being hit with cuts. A few brought tents.

The Anchorage School Board is hearing additional budget testimony at its meeting Monday evening and has $2.2 million more from the state Legislature to divvy up among many demands, School Board president Gretchen Guess said in a phone interview.

Some of the money may be funneled to the district's savings account, which is low, or into a fund for big equipment purchases, such as school buses. Guess said she'd also like some of the money to be used to keep more teachers.

Many of the protesters were from Steller Secondary School, where popular art teacher Lee Weiland may be forced out for lack of seniority. Students said he's their third art teacher in three years and has been remarkable -- he coached a new acrobatics club, organized exhibitions of student work, and was creating an advanced placement program so students can earn college credit for art.

Tziporah Lax, 14, whose mother was one of the protest organizers, said that Weiland worked with her to create a ceramic model of a wolf skull for an independent study science class.

Paige Sneddon, another incoming ninth-grader at Steller, said kids get used to a teacher's individual style. "It's kind of stressful," she said of the way teachers are shuffled around. "It makes it more difficult to have an actual connection."

Steller parent Rebecca Johnson said the problem is bigger than that one school. Foreign language teachers, counselors, music teachers and other art teachers around the district also received layoff notices.

Guess, a Steller graduate, said she understands the concerns.

"There is nothing that doesn't stink about this situation," she said. But unless the state Legislature increases the amount of money it provides per student, deep cuts will continue in schools, she said. Anchorage already puts in the most it can from property taxes under law, she said.

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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