JAMS — Having sent both her children here, state Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) is well acquainted with John Adams Middle School.
But on Friday the former Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board of education member got to see the campus from a whole new perspective.
Donning a florescent yellow work vest and carrying a walkie-talkie, Brownley played the part of a security officer at JAMS all day, taking part in a Service Employees International Union program meant to highlight its members’ vital roles.
Called “Walk a Day in My Shoes,” the program aims “to have legislators really understand working people and the different jobs they do,” said Blanca Gallegos, a spokeswoman for the local SEIU chapter.
Launched during the 2008 presidential campaign to publicize workers’ issues, Gallegos said the program is especially relevant today as state legislators deal with a budget crisis that could mean an additional $2.5 billion in cuts to California school districts. SMMUSD officials said they are facing a projected $14 million budget deficit for the coming school year and have been forced to eliminate five school days.
The SEIU’s 450 members in the SMMUSD are the district’s custodians, instructional aids, maintenance workers and other support staff.
Starting at 7:30 a.m., Brownley shadowed a security officer named Chauncy Jones as she walked the campus grounds looking for tardy students, prepared for an afternoon assembly and escorted a disruptive student to the front office.
During recess at JAMS, Brownley, who chairs the Assembly’s Education Committee, patrolled the multi-purpose room and greeted students as they filed through the cafeteria line.
Jones went about her normal routine.
“One line! Up against the wall, let’s go!” Jones shouted as students headed for the snack counter.
Having worked in the district for 11 years, she said this is the first time she’s felt her job may be in jeopardy. Some security officers could be eliminated from the district’s payroll next year, giving her “an uneasy feeling,” she said.
Jones said there are two security officers at JAMS. If the district cuts one security position, “That will mean one officer patrolling 16 acres and responsible for the safety of 1,100 students,” she said.
As the SMMUSD school board grapples with an estimated $14 budget gap, district officials are yet to layoff any SEIU members. But Superintendent Tim Cuneo has said as many 30 classified employees could lose their jobs before the next school year. This week he announced 61 teachers would be getting pink slips.
The school board is asking voters this spring to approved a $198 “emergency” parcel tax to generate an estimated $5.7 million per year.
By mid morning, Brownley said she was impressed by how many different functions Jones was asked to serve. From setting up audio visual equipment to acting like an extra counselor to helping out with maintenance, Brownley said the job entailed being an “all purpose person.”
As for alleviating the need to make deep cuts to schools, Brownley said she’s hopeful the state’s revenues will improve as the legislature revises the budget for the upcoming year in May. She said while she supports ideas like creating a tax on companies that drill for oil in the state, plans to generate new revenues that could go to the school system haven’t gained traction in Sacramento because of Republican opposition.
Brownley is the first politician to participate in the SEIU’s program in Santa Monica.