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Outside Ray Vizcarra’s Fairfax High School classroom door, you can hear the school band playing.
“‘Ran Kan Kan’ by Tito Puente,” the band director said, identifying the song as the band played without its leader.
But for Vizcarra, and many other art, music and theatre teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the image is sadly fitting. Of the 3,400 reduction in force (RIF) notices to be rescinded because of a deal struck with the teachers unions, his will not be one of them.
“As far as I am concerned it’s not a done deal yet,” Fairfax High School Principal Ed Zubiate said. “There will be a music program, but there is a question because this is the man who has resurrected the program after 20 years and done wonderful things and he is as Fairfax as they come. He has earned the right to continue with the program.”
Zubiate explained that he will comply with the district’s rulings, but the battle to keep Vizcarra on staff was not over.
After reaching a tentative agreement with the LAUSD that will limit the amount of furloughs taken by LAUSD staff to four days, members of the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) voted to approve the deal.
Suzanne Nichols, an LAUSD theatre teacher and founder of the “Save the Arts” fundraiser that will take place June 11 at the Cocoanut Grove, was surprised a deal with the unions was reached so quickly.
“It’s less of a struggle than say a month ago, but the struggle remains,” Nichols said. “But I just feel for the people who will still not have jobs next year.”
Those like Vizcarra, who will lead the Fairfax High School band for the last time on June 9, will continue their job search.
Since receiving his reduction in force (RIF) notice earlier this year Vizcarra, an LAUSD graduate from Freemont High School in 1996, has been actively searching for another job, but nothing has caught his eye.
“If I leave this school, I am not going to LA Unified anymore,” Vizcarra said. “I wanted to go back because I [went] to school here, but it’s just tough with these district rules and I don’t want to deal with that anymore. It’s too tough to deal with the uncertainty of being laid off. I have seen at other districts, they don’t have this problem with music teachers, they care about it more.”
Vizcarra has built the school’s music program over the past five years. Prior to that, there were no classes offered for students.
“You didn’t hear any music here,” Vizcarra said.
The agreement ratified by UTLA could potentially save another 1,700 classroom and non-classroom positions for the 2011-12 school year, but still many schools across the district are losing their arts programs, Nichols said.
Class sizes will also be maintained, which the UTLA believes stabilizes schools and preserves the student-learning environment.
But many students at the Fairfax music program have come to Vizcarra and told him they will quit playing if he is let go, despite his pleas for them to stick with the program.
“The reality of the situation is every time a school gets a new teacher, it’s going to take time for [the students] to adjust,” Vizcarra said.
It could take another three years before the program gets back to its current level, he added.
“At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be about the teachers, we are still losing some magnificent magical teachers,” Nichols said.
The UTLA cited declining enrollment, the loss of federal stimulus funds and the school board’s “giveaway of district schools” as reasons not all jobs could be saved.
“This agreement will benefit teachers, health and human services professionals, parents and especially students who will lose fewer instructional days and maintain class sizes next year,” UTLA President A.J. Duffy said in a statement. “We now need to find long-term solutions to the budget crisis so that the classroom is not continuously threatened.”
For now, there is no long term for Vizcarra. There will only be one more bow after his band plays its final note.
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