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RHS Teachers Protest Pink Slips
Teachers placed 15 chairs marked with pink ribbons outside the Riverbank Ünified School District boardroom on April 6 to symbolize the 15 "pink slips" of potential dismissal that the district has issued.

They then crowded into the boardroom to plead with trustees that teachers are the heart of the educational system and that there must be other ways of balancing the budget without cutting their ranks. One of them suggested the district could save a lot of money by conserving on utilities such as electricity.

Riverbank High teacher and sports coach Monte Wood said they hoped to persuade the board to rescind at least some of the warnings of dismissal and to make the community aware of how losing that many teachers would affect the district.

Wood went on to emphasize teachers serve in many capacities besides classroom instructors. They are coaches, counselors, and club leaders, after school tutors and more - some of them exert a large and positive influence on the students - and the district will lose these services also.

"I feel the district is at a crossroads and could be in dire straits," said Wood, who has been an English teacher and track and field coach at RHS for 13 years. "Teachers who have recently retired like Ron Hebert had a major influence on the students. Bruce Edwards is leaving this year. Last year we lost our football coach Paul Smith. I hear the dismissal of Lisa Mila, volleyball and track coach, has been rescinded. But we will lose a wrestling coach and a student activities director."

Many school districts have solicited advice from the community on cutting expenses or raising more revenues, said Jim Boling, who has taught 14 years at RHS, but added that he has not seen that happen here. The Modesto district twice had online surveys and also asked for ideas in a written ballot, he said.

Music teacher Michael Dunlop thanked trustees for preserving the elementary school music program but noted teachers who serve on the front lines of education appear to be the most impacted.

"They have a vital role. They are not just teachers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are activity directors, coaches and a lot more. One of our staff could not be here tonight because she is leading a student field trip - on her Easter break.

"There must be another way of making up the budget deficit. To my mind, cuts should be kept as afar away as possible from the classroom," Dunlop said.

Riverbank Teachers Association president Richard Beatty agreed with his colleagues' comments and thanked Superintendent of Schools Ken Geisick for meeting with him and teachers groups in discussions.

"We have to make a decision. But making teacher cuts is not the best answer. There are other ways and we must work together."

Parent Teacher Association vice president Marcy Williams also joined the teachers in their protests.

"They are our future," she said of the students and said taking away teachers and increasing class size to 40 children is not good.

She also questioned whether the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program continue.

"I moved my kids from private schools and am grateful for the education they are getting in this district. But I will transfer them from Mesa Verde if that's what it takes for them to succeed," she added.

One teacher produced figures on how other districts such as Sylvan and Ceres have reaped huge savings by curtailing their operating expenses and use of utilities. Riverbank could do the same by following their lead in energy conservation, he suggested. Ceres, for example, had cut their gas and electric costs by 25 percent last year and 32 percent this year for savings amounting to almost $1 million.

"With the way the economy is going," he said, "we may be here next year cutting teachers again. But without teachers, there is no school district."