Parents, teachers and students unite to fight cuts

New York — Parents, students, teachers and administrators rallied at City Hall March 20 to protest state and city budget cuts to schools. Despite a driving rain, over 10,000 people turned out for the rally called by the Keep the Promises Coalition, made up of 60 community, parent and education groups, along with their allies in the labor movement.

New York City schools have been hit with mid-year cuts totaling $180 million. Rally participants cited the impact of these cuts which include after school programs, arts programs, tutoring and even instructional supplies. An even greater threat, to the tune of an additional $500 million, has been ordered for September.

Thousands of protesters wore bright orange and green caps. Students and teachers carried banners which read “Keep the Promises,” and “Restore the Cuts.”

Many protesters and speakers connected the school budget cuts and the trillions spent on the war in Iraq. Signs read, “No Cuts, No War,” and “$ For Education, Not Occupation.” Shouts of “Mantenga las promesas” rang out repeatedly to denounce the cuts to staff and extra curricular activities. One student speaker ended with the chant, “The students united, will never be defeated.” About 80 students from Lower East Side Prep High School attended with staff members.

Hazel Dukes from the NAACP pointed at City Hall and shouted at New York City Mayor Bloomberg and Department of Education Chancellor Joel I. Klein that protests would continue until promises to children are kept. One parent said, “We fought hard to get CFE (campaign for fiscal equity) money and we are not going to give it back!”

But the most impressive speakers talked about the wasteful military spending in Iraq. Jane Hirschman, from Time Out from Testing, stated that the schools have no money because George Bush sent us to war. She called for 30 seconds of silence for the men and women overseas.

Hirschman highlighted the fact that Mayor Bloomberg spends $80 million on a testing company to track scores and millions for consultants and no bid contracts, but will not make any cuts there.

City Council member Robert Jackson pointed out that this was the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war. He asked, “What if a fraction of the cost of the war went to education? We wouldn’t have a budget crisis in our schools.”

UFT President Randi Weingarten said she was dead serious in her opposition to the budget cuts. She said promises were made on the city and state level to keep a steady revenue for education.

Weingarten suggested that a proposed short-term tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers would serve as a better solution than imposing cuts on New York City schoolchildren.

Dennis Hughes, president of the New York State’s AFL-CIO brought greetings of solidarity to the rally. One speaker from the New York Immigration Task Force highlighted the high drop-out rate among immigrant students and the need for extra services, as opposed to cuts.

The list of supporters rolled along a giant screen for all participants and passersby to view. It included dozens of unions supporting the coalition including: AFSCME, DC 37, New York City Central Labor Council, UAW Region 9, IBEW Local 3, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), and Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA).

Community advocates included groups such as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, ACORN, Hispanic Federation, Time Out for Testing, Alliance for Quality Education, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families, the Staten Island Federation of Parents and Teachers, Coalition for Educational Justice and Working Families Party, Advocates for Children, and several Dominican community organizations.

Forty-two New York City Council members have signed a resolution by Council member Bill DeBlasio opposing the cuts and calling for full funding.

David Samson is a long-time rank-and-file activist and member of the United Federation of Teachers.