ANNAPOLIS, Md. — “They want to turn our schools over to corporate America to operate at a profit. But our children are not for sale!” So said an angry Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union.

She spoke to the World during an AFL-CIO rally April 3 here protesting the state’s takeover of 11 Baltimore schools, as well as a 72 percent rate hike for Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission and other pro-corporate initiatives by Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.

Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick invoked President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law as legal cover to take over the 11 “failing” schools and turn them over to corporate profiteers like Edison Schools. Bush’s Education Secretary Margaret Spellings gushed that she is a member of the “Nancy Grasmick fan club” since Grasmick rammed the takeover through the Maryland School Board without alerting Baltimore’s school board, mayor or city council.

Gov. Ehrlich is seen as the moving force for the school takeover, hoping to undermine Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, his likely Democratic opponent in the Nov. 7 elections. But Ehrlich’s maneuver was backfiring badly.

Glenn Middleton, executive director of District Council 67, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, told the World, “They came like a thief in the night to take these schools over. Grasmick has close relations with the governor. This was timed to embarrass Mayor O’Malley. It is an insult to the Legislature and the Baltimore School Board.” To invoke No Child Left Behind in the takeover, he added, “makes this a threat to every other school district in the State of Maryland.”

Hundreds of union members rode buses to the 15th annual AFL-CIO “Night in Annapolis” rally. Ernie Greco, Baltimore AFL-CIO president, introduced the contingents: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Plumbers and Steamfitters, Ironworkers, Laborers, Steelworkers, Autoworkers and several public workers unions.

They cheered Maryland legislators for passing a bill to block the school takeover for one year. Greeted as a hero was state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-Baltimore), who fast-tracked the moratorium so the Legislature would have time to override Ehrlich’s promised veto. “That was a midnight attack on those 11 schools,” McFadden told the crowd. “You talk about local control but don’t even give them advance warning they are going to be taken over. We know the schools have problems. But turning those schools over to an outside private contractor is not the answer.”

McFadden pointed toward the governor’s mansion, shouting that his moratorium “is a protective order, to protect the children” from Ehrlich.

The crowd also cheered a bill rushed through in the eleventh hour, to fire the commissioners who approved the BG&E rate hike that will cost the average ratepayer $750 and some as much as $1,500 in higher gas and electric bills this year. Caps imposed on rate increases when the General Assembly passed a deregulation bill in 1999 expire this year, and BG&E is making up for lost time. Ehrlich appointed all but one Public Service Commission member, all with crony ties to BG&E.

The Legislature also approved a bill giving it veto power over a merger between Constellation Energy Group, BG&E’s owner, and Florida Power & Light, as well as a bill to recoup $528 in charges to customers. The charges were based on projections that BG&E electric generating plants would depreciate. Instead their value has skyrocketed.

Ehrlich has vowed to veto the General Assembly’s attempts to block his corporate giveaways but it began its January session by overriding eight Ehrlich vetoes, including vetoes of an increase in the state minimum wage and the Fair Share Health Care Act.

“Override Ehrlich,” the crowd chanted. “We want O’Malley.”

O’Malley called Ehrlich “the most anti-worker, anti-labor governor Maryland has had in 50 years,” telling the crowd, “We don’t need a governor who, like George W. Bush, stands for maximum profits for the big energy corporations.”

Ehrlich is behind the schools takeover even though Baltimore schools are steadily improving, he said. “Are we going to allow that?” The crowd roared, “No!”

Speaking for Baltimore teachers, English accused Ehrlich of “turning our schools and our children into a political football.”

“This takeover is just another way of taking resources out of Baltimore schools that are already underfunded. We need smaller class sizes, more resources,” she said. Noting that city schools have shown progress on test scores, she said, “They never consulted with us about this takeover.”

General Assembly Majority Whip Anthony Brown, an African American Iraq war veteran, is O’Malley’s running mate. He told the rally, “We need to dismantle the Public Service Commission. It is dysfunctional. It is not serving the working families of Maryland. Ehrlich will veto that and we will override. Ehrlich is using children in Baltimore as political pawns. I’m proud that Democrats in the Legislature stood up to stop that.”

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