More than 2,000 teachers went on strike Thursday, upset with a 10-percent pay cut imposed by the Capistrano Unified School District last month to deal with a $34-million budget shortfall. Teachers say they're willing to take the cut if it expires in June 2011.
"Everybody else is settling with furlough days. Those are temporary. Our district wants to go right at us and it wants to make it be permanent," said Suzie Moothart, a teacher in the district.
"The board is imposing, they've taken our legal right to negotiate, and they seem to have some agenda that doesn't have anything to do with what's good for kids or teachers," said teacher Brandy Winters.
At the school district office, parents and students protested outside while upstairs officials looked at the effect of the strike.
The district's student attendance rate is more than 95 percent on a typical day. On day one of the strike, officials say less than half of elementary school students went to class. Just over 40 percent were in attendance at the middle school level. And at the high schools, less than a quarter of students attended.
Many who went to school faced substitute teachers. Instead of world literature, student Dylan Marsh says he was handed a packet.
"One was like a personality test to see what kind of person you are, to see what you'd want to do," said Marsh, a student at Dana Hills High School.
"It's just sitting in class. It's boring. We're not doing anything," said Jana Abumeri, another Dana Hills student.
District officials say activities varied per school based on the principal's decision.
Some parents say they'll take it day by day, but for now, their children will stay home.
"They were saddened," said parent Lucy Kuharich. "It's something that a 6-year-old shouldn't have to go through."
Some parents are choosing sides. Parent Michelle Martin joined the teachers on the picket line.
"I'm doing it for a reason. I'm doing it to show that the teachers mean that much," Martin said.
Some parents say they won't let their children cross the picket lines.
"They're just like our second parents kind of, and it's kind of sad when they're not being paid, and then they're not teaching us," said student Mario Robles.
Others say they are finding themselves and their kids stuck in the middle.
"It's hard to be on one side or the other. I think kids, the education should continue regardless if they need to protest or not ," said parent Victor Oropeza.
The school district said students not in attendance will be counted as absent. The teachers who walked the picket line will lose a day's pay for each day they're out.
Twelve percent, or one in eight teachers, did show up for work Thursday.
The district says all 56 campuses will be open with substitute teachers. District officials admit that it's not ideal, but it will have to do, as long as teachers take their complaints to the streets.