Modesto teachers abandoned barbecued chicken and tri-tip dinners for pickets at their annual celebration Wednesday marking the California Day of the Teacher.
About 30 teachers waved signs at evening commuters on Coffee Road as they decried cuts to education spending, hours after Gov. Schwarzenegger unveiled his updated state budget plan in Sacramento.
Melody McGill, a Roosevelt Junior High science teacher, said tight budget times already are taking a toll in her classroom. Modesto City Schools has cut $14 million in programs and positions from its 2008-09 budget and has curtailed all but the most essential spending.
Board member Steve Grenbeaux joined teachers on the protest line, carrying a sign that read "Protect School Funding."
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"You want to do more hands-on activities, but with the budget cuts, the supplies aren't there," McGill said. "The kids are doing more pencil and paper."
Enochs High history teacher Janeen Zambo said any cuts to education will further undermine California's standing in the nation in per-student spending. The most recent national ranking puts California at 46th.
"We're going to fall to 50th," Zambo said. "Education is not an extra."
Schwarzenegger's latest plan retreated from his January proposal to suspend Proposition 98, the state's minimum school funding guarantee. He will boost education funding by about $1.8 billion for the coming fiscal year compared with current year spending, but schools still would lose about $4 billion in anticipated revenue because the plan does not include cost-of-living increases.
Barney Hale, Modesto Teachers Association executive director, said the latest proposal is an improvement over Schwarzenegger's initial proposal in January, but he fears a budget fight will last well into the fall.
"It's better than it was," Hale said. "It's all such politics at this stage of the game."
About 50 Riverbank teachers staged a similar protest outside their district office and along Highway 108, urging motorists and passers-by to lobby their legislators about easing the burden of the budget deficit on education.
"We're being celebrated today, but I sometimes wonder if we're respected," said Roz Taulbee, lead negotiator for the Riverbank Teachers Association.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.