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Hunger

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Teachers at the Los Angeles Unified School District are resorting to increasingly extreme measures to block the likely layoff of thousands of colleagues.

A handful of hunger strikers are nearing their third week of fasting to draw attention the looming layoffs. The school board's set to ax more than 2,000 teachers by the end of the month to close a massive budget deficit.

A tent city, a Cortinesville, sprouted last week on the steps of the 29-story school district headquarters where activists accused Superintendent Ramon Cortines and the school board of balancing the district's budget on the backs of school children.

Marco Flores, a first grade teacher, at Manchester Elementary School in South L.A., had fasted for five days. He agrees it's an extreme measure and said he's doing it out of frustration that the parties involved weren't doing more to protect student learning. "About three weeks ago we sort of decided that what's happening in Los Angeles with education was just unacceptable. The union and the district were just not doing anything. We were going to start next school year with class sizes that were too big."

Since he was hired as deputy superintendent last year and the school board elevated him to superintendent in January, Ramon Cortines has been praised by many teachers as the most in-touch top administrator in recent memory. He knows schools, from the classroom to headquarters, many said. Cortines and the school board have said the cuts they've approved are painful but necessary.

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Lincoln High School English teacher Sean Leys, who on Friday had fasted for 17 days, is one of many rank and file teachers demonizing Cortines. "I don't know how it could be possible that he understands the severe impacts of the budget cuts he's talking about without proposing anything but budget cuts."

Leys said teachers aren't the only ones frustrated. Clerical workers, parents and other instructors carried out a one day solidarity fast last week at his Lincoln Heights campus. "People keep asking me how I feel, expecting me to talk about headaches or hunger and the truth is I feel strong."

To lift their spirits, fast organizers invited United Farm Workers icon, Dolores Huerta - a woman who knows a thing or two about hunger strikes - for a visit to the hunger strikers.

Teacher Marco Flores said Korean American, Chinese American and Chicano activists are coming out to support the hunger strikers because they see growing racial divisions in the nearly 700,000 student school district. "As long as one race is happy and the other one is struggling, I think the board can justify it by saying, half the schools are doing well, half the schools are not being affected. And that's not acceptable to us."

Yesterday, Aztec drummers worked up a long drum beat at the school district headquarters, hoping administrators would hear their opposition and come up with ways to protect the public schools.

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