Name: Maggie Ellis
Occupation: Fifth-grade teacher at Carroll Elementary School and President-Elect of the Elk Grove Education Association
It's a tough time to be a teachers' union leader in California.
Legislators are blaming your pay and benefits for bankrupting the state. Your supporters are being arrested in the State Capitol rotunda. Oh, and barring a budgetary miracle, thousands of your coworkers statewide are set to lose their jobs next school year.
Luckily for Maggie Ellis, who was elected president of the 3000-member Elk Grove Education Association earlier this week, she brings some experience to the job.
"I was here for the nice times and now I'm here for the bad times," says the teacher, who served a previous term in the mid- '00s as president of the union, which represents teachers and other professional employees in the .
"I'm going to hit the ground running."
Ellis's colleagues chose her to take over from current president Tom Gardner, whose term expires June 30. On Tuesday, shortly after the election results were announced, the school board voted to lay off over 400 of her union's members.
Ellis and her fellow teachers are hoping a last-ditch campaign they're mounting this week will convince state legislators to pass a budget that includes tax increases—boosting education funding and saving their jobs. Teachers are holding protests around the state, including in Sacramento, as part of a Week of Action organized by the EGEA's parent organization, the California Teachers Association.
"Everything is riding on what happens in the next few weeks," Ellis said.
A Republican, Ellis was a reluctant union leader. She became active in the EGEA only after filing a grievance alleging that special education teachers (Ellis was one at the time) weren't getting as much prep time as other instructors.
"Prior to that, I was one of the teachers who didn't think a union was needed," she said.
A supporter of so-called interest-based bargaining—based on the idea that employers and workers share mutual goals—Ellis said she disagrees with those teachers who have called for a statewide teachers' strike in response to the current crisis. And she distanced herself from the teachers and students who were arrested in a sit-in at the Capitol Monday.
"They hijacked our permit," she said.
Still, even Ellis acknowledges that it's hard to play nice when her colleagues' jobs are first on the chopping block.
"Our school board is ready to move class sizes to 30 to 1 without looking at other possibilities," she said. She named moving a greater number of schools to a traditional calendar and cutting extra-curricular activities as a couple of alternatives.
Despite their differences, Superintendent Steven Ladd and several school board members said they will join teachers and parents in another protest at the Capitol Friday.
It's the grand finale of a week in which teachers tore around the Capitol in baby blue CTA shirts, testifying against bills aimed at cutting their salaries, benefits and seniority rights.
A bill to allow districts to lay off teachers based on performance evaluations rather than seniority—a popular demand among education reformers—died in committee Thursday after teachers testified against it. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said it would boost the quality of teaching.
"Evaluations are based on a principal's opinion," she said. "But maybe that principal doesn't like you because you're vocal, or you cost more because you've been there a long time so they want to get rid of you."
Ellis, whose school is on vacation this week, cancelled a visit to her 92-year-old mother in Mississippi in order to attend the protests.
Yet as passionate as she is about the battles ahead, the 16-year district veteran said she's even more excited about getting this mess taken care of so she can get back into the classroom.
"I love giving kids the opportunity to think and watching that lightbulb go off," she said. "Fifth grade is the whole starting point when math, science and social studies come together and they all start to make the connections.
"They start to say, 'I got it.' That's what keeps me in this profession."