Protesters occupy Baltimore School Board

BALTIMORE – Hundreds of chanting students, parents, and school employees rallied outside the Baltimore School Board on Dec. 9 to protest the layoff of 1,000 school workers, a drastic measure to reduce a $52 million school deficit. After the rally, they marched into the School Board hearing room and occupied the chamber for three hours before police removed them. No one was arrested.

The sidewalk rally was initiated by ACORN but the city’s youth were the most eloquent messengers. Displayed above the speakers’ heads was a big hand-painted banner of the Midtown Academy, a public elementary school. “If we can build schools in Baghdad, why not Baltimore?” their banner read.

Midtown Academy student Ashley Day, so diminutive she had to stand on her toes to look over the lectern, said, “We’re here because we care. We leave messages on their answering machines and they never call us back. But we will be heard!”

Bryan Wiseman, 12, a seventh-grader at the Midtown Academy, told the World, “It doesn’t make any sense to spend our taxes in Iraq when we need it here.” He was circulating a petition addressed to Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich citing an inspection of Baltimore’s 199 schools that found 115 in “poor condition.” The petition asks, “How can the public expect students to learn when our classrooms, libraries, water systems, and gymnasiums are falling apart?”

Joe Parker, a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44 who was laid off from his job as a school janitor, told the crowd, “We hear them talk about ‘No Child Left Behind.’ What does a parent do when just before the holidays, he has to tell his child he got a pink slip?”

Local 44 leader Yvonne Finn pointed out that scores of curriculum specialists have been terminated. “Who’s going to write the curriculum when they are gone?” The crowd chanted, “Save our schools!”

While Maryland’s governor and General Assembly have been directed to provide $250 million annually to Baltimore in a court-ordered effort to equalize per-pupil spending statewide, Gov. Ehrlich has yet to deliver, citing the state’s budget woes.

Later that evening, Lonnie Francis, a student at Baltimore City College High School, told a jam-packed meeting of the School Board that the Maryland Constitution requires an adequate education for all children. “We believe the school board should take the withholding taxes that go to the state and federal government and funnel it into the school system,” he said. “It may be a violation of the tax laws but if they fail to fund our schools, they are violating the Constitution.” The crowd erupted in applause.

James Carroll, president of the City Union of Baltimore (CUB), which represents 600 school secretaries and other support staff, protested the termination of 27 CUB employees. “We did not create this mess. Why should working people have to suffer for the mismanagement?” he said.

Carroll told the World his union, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, will join the Baltimore Teachers Union, AFSCME Local 44, ACORN and other labor and community groups to send 1,000 or more protesters to a rally outside the State House in Annapolis on Jan. 26 to demand full funding of the schools. “They have promised that classroom instruction won’t suffer from these layoffs. But we can’t believe that,” he said. “We see them hiring high-priced contractors when that work could be done within” using public employees, he said.

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.