Students on strike?

The students are getting restless.

There are even rumors of a student-staged walkout that could cost the Chico Unified School District thousands of dollars in attendance money from the state.

Dozens of students packed the March 20 meeting of the district’s Board of Trustees, calling for a halt to layoffs of nearly 30 teachers and the accompanying increased class sizes. They presented a petition with more than 850 signatures to that effect and testified passionately until the board’s time limits on public comment kicked in.

Steven Valentino, student body president at Chico High School, introduced the speakers as the district’s 13,000-member-strong “silent majority.”

“We can be silent no longer,” he said, adding that, “We are not pro-union, and we are not pro-district.”

The trustees’ mantra was this: If they hadn’t granted teachers raises last year, the teachers would have gone on strike. Caving in cost the district $1 million, and no one should be surprised that those cuts will include teacher layoffs. The CUSD had to send letters to teachers by March 15 if there was a chance they could be part of a “reduction in force.” Depending on how many teachers retire or go on leave this year, it’s expected half of the almost 60 who got the letters will ultimately be laid off.

Valentino didn’t dispute that cuts must be made but said, “We would prefer that they would be broader and across-the-board cuts that do not target one group.” At least 86 percent of the CUSD’s budget is tied up in personnel.

Students also rallied in support of specific teachers with low seniority who have received notices that they may be out of a job. They presented a petition signed by 360 students who want to keep drama teacher Tamara Jensen at Pleasant Valley High School. Some also pled for David McKay, who teaches at Chico High.

Another petition came from students in Chico High’s tight-knit West Program, where teachers have received the notices. Near tears, Jennifer Ledoyen, a West student and student body treasurer, said, “You are asking us to destroy a family.”

Machell Tucker, who teaches English and world history, gave up tenure in another district to come to PV five years ago, only to receive a notice of potential layoff. “Permanence means nothing in this district,” she said bitterly. She got a standing ovation.

Trustee Scott Schofield, who has consistently blamed the teachers’ union for the cuts, said, “It hurts my feelings to listen to this.” After someone from the audience yelled, “You screwed up,” he agreed, saying, “We settled a deal and spent too much money and we’re paying for it now.”

Reached during spring break, Valentino said that students are trying to have a “constructive dialogue” with the district, but some of his peers are “pretty worked up” and the idea of a walkout is “something that’s been floated since the beginning of this.”

He added that if anyone thinks teachers are driving the students’ efforts, they’re mistaken. "This is not some kind of proxy teacher campaign or something," Valentino said. "This is students taking charge of their education."