Marchers against cuts hit Turlock

Hundreds of education and labor activists will let their feet do the talking as they walk into Turlock today, protesting cuts in public education across the state.

The 48-day March for California's Future rolled into the Northern San Joaquin Valley this past week, stopping in Merced, Atwater and Livingston before heading to Turlock and then Modesto.

"Here's the future of California," said John Stewart of the Merced-Mariposa Central Labor Council to marchers in Merced. "No more cuts. We're only partway on our journey. This is the beginning, where working people of America assert themselves."

The march began March 5 in Bakersfield and will end April 21 in Sacramento. The California Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other labor unions organized the statewide march.

Modesto City Schools Trustee Ruben Villalobos supported the marchers' goals as they prepared to rally in the city.

"I think it's more important now than ever that parents know what's going on in Sacramento," he said. "When we're not getting the money that's promised to us, the more and more people that let Sacramento know this is a problem, the better we'll be."

Modesto City Schools expects to cut $25 million from next year's budget. In Stanislaus County, at least 964 educators have been given pink slips and may lose their jobs in July, representing more than 17 percent of public school teachers, counselors, librarians and administrators.

Statewide, the layoff total tops 23,255, about 13 percent of California's more than 300,000 educators.

To protest all the cuts and layoffs, the activists will follow the same route César Chávez took in 1966 from Delano to the state Capitol following grape workers as they struck for higher wages.

The march arrives in Turlock today, with a rally at 5 p.m. Monday in Donnelly Park. The group will leave for Modesto on Tuesday.

A march along Modesto streets ending at a rally in Graceada Park is planned for Wednesday.

Marchers who joined in during the Merced leg said they hoped their presence in the heart of the state sends a message to the state Legislature.

"I hope the people in Sacramento are paying attention to this," said Rolf Talberg of the Merced/Mariposa California Teachers Association. "They need to get their noses to the grindstone to get this resolved. The fact that we can't sustain these institutions is sad."

In two years, the state has slashed its education budget by $17 billion.

Throughout the 48-day tour marchers are asking voters to sign a petition that would place the Majority Budget Act on the November 2010 ballot.

The initiative would require a majority of 50 percent plus one to pass the budget, as opposed to the two-thirds majority now needed. According to the group, the provision would keep the minority from holding the document hostage so its members can create tax loopholes for corporations or lower taxes for the highest income earners.

Here is a schedule of the march's Central Valley stops:

Today, Livingston to Turlock — Start at 10 a.m. at Merced River Resort, 7765 Campground Road, Delhi

Monday, Turlock — Rally at 5 p.m. in Donnelly Park, 600 Pedras Road

Tuesday, Turlock to Modesto — Meet at 3 p.m., Central Labor Council, 1125 Kansas Ave. in Modesto to walk into town.

Wednesday, Modesto — Staging at noon at the Central Labor Council. March starts at 1 p.m., with a rally at 4 in Graceada Park.

Thursday, Modesto to Escalon — Start at 8 a.m. at the Central Labor Council.

The Merced Sun-Star and Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or 578-2284.