Three Los Angeles Unified School District employees wanted to make sure that the candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction walked a day in their shoes. They wanted the candidates to know what it’s like providing good student services when massive state budget cuts have forced LAUSD to eliminate 650 building and grounds positions this school year and nearly 200 cafeteria positions over the last two years.
This series of “Walk a Day in My Shoes” events is part of a larger program of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Any candidate wishing to be considered for endorsement by SEIU members must walk a day in our shoes.
Elaida Vasquez, Lincoln High School cafeteria worker:
When I started here 25 years ago, there were 28 cafeteria employees and most of the food was prepared here from scratch. The kids loved our food—especially the enchiladas. I remember we used to make a homemade turkey dinner around the holidays, baking whole turkeys in the oven”. Today, over years and years of budget cuts, there are only 12 mostly part-time workers and the food is primarily pre-packaged and reheated.
Eladia and her co-workers gave State Superintendent candidate Larry Aceves a chance to experience what it’s like trying to prepare food and get as many kids through the long lunch lines as possible. Currently, there’s only enough staff and time to serve about half the school.
As a superintendent, I worked hand-in-hand with employees to ensure that our schools were running efficiently and our students were provided the best opportunities possible. I am glad I participated in the ‘Walk a Day in My Shoes’ program. It was great to get back in the trenches and interact with the people who provide our students with such a wonderful learning environment. This was a great experience.
Cafeteria workers at South Gate Middle School wanted State Superintendent candidate Senator Gloria Romero to see the effects of the staff cuts and lack of food choices for the children.
Gloria Lua, cafeteria worker at South Gate Middle School:
We used to make 13 entrees per day. More recently, we gave the kids a choice of 7 items. Now, due to the budget cuts, we’re only serving 3 items. And just last month we lost 5 cafeteria workers. Every day, there are a handful of kids who wait in the lunch line and get turned away because the lines are too long. Many children see the long lines and don’t even bother getting lunch, instead buying chips and sweets.
Currently, about a third of the middle school students aren’t eating a meal at the school. An additional lunch cart at the other end of campus used to ensure that more students were fed. Half of the campus custodial staff was cut at the beginning of the year, however, so the cart was eliminated due to the lack of staff to clean up after lunch.
Education is the key to the American Dream, and that dream is delivered on a daily basis by dedicated employees at South Gate Middle School. I was honored to accept the invitation of SEIU to ‘walk in the shoes’ of SEIU members who provide critical support services for our school children. This experience has enabled me to better understand the challenges we face in grappling with California's budget crisis and that the budget cannot be balanced on the backs of those we most depend upon to serve food to our children, clean the bathrooms, and maintain a safe and secure campus.
At Bell High School, custodians work hard to keep the school clean and safe for students and teachers, but budget cuts have reduced the number of workers on campus.
Theresa Aguilar, night custodian at Bell High School:
It used to say ‘Eagle Pride’ in front of the campus at Bell High School. I really try to keep the school clean so that the kids can still feel pride in their school. Every night, I’m responsible for cleaning the girls’ locker room (including showers, restrooms, and the coach’s office), the School Gymnasium (sweeping, light mopping, and restrooms), the boys’ varsity field house (including the football players’ locker room and restrooms), the faculty restrooms, the photo lab and graphic arts classrooms, and an Assistant Principal’s office. But ever since they laid off three of our night custodians, I have eight more classrooms and another small gymnasium to clean every night.
A few years ago, there were 20 building and grounds workers at Bell. Now, due to staff cuts, there are only 13. So Theresa invited State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Assemblyman Tom Torlakson to walk a day in her shoes, seeing what it’s like trying to keep the school clean. The Assemblyman worked a full 8-hour shift with Theresa, cleaning sinks and toilets, scraping gum off classroom floors, sweeping, mopping, and emptying garbage cans.
I know from my experience as a teacher how important the professional support staff are to helping every one of our students succeed in the classroom. Since working with Theresa, I now have a personal understanding about how recent budget cuts are impacting these workers and the vital services they provide in our public schools. The recent devastating cuts to education, and to these vital support services, are having an adverse impact on our ability to provide a safe and high-quality education to each and every one of our students.