News stories

UFTers engage in protest actions across the city

Bronx caravan carries important messages

With signs fastened to cars and some held by members, vehicles are lined up as tMiller PhotographyWith signs fastened to cars and some held by members, vehicles are lined up as they make their way down Pelham Parkway. It was a sight to behold on March 28, as 121 cars decorated with pro-teacher signs and packed with hundreds of UFT members slowly made their way down Pelham Parkway in the Bronx to raise public awareness about the dual threat of teacher layoffs and budget cuts to education.

UFT Special Representative Jeff Povalitis, who worked with staff and leaders from the union’s Bronx office to organize the event, estimated that the caravan stretched for a quarter of a mile and involved as many as 600 Bronx educators.

One of those educators, PS 64 Chapter Leader Anna Howard, said she participated in the event out of concern about the impact that layoffs and budget cuts will have on her school. She painted a bleak picture of her school’s future, in which afterschool programs will be eliminated and class size will skyrocket.

Howard, a 3rd-grade English-as-a-second-language teacher, said she appreciated the opportunity to protest the mayor’s plans as part of the caravan.

“It was a great outreach to the community,” she said. “We had a great time making the noise we do in the Bronx, trying to let people know the situation is serious.”

And she wasn’t the only one enthusiastic about the protest. The caravan, which received television coverage on Fox 5 and other local news stations, was by all accounts a major success.

“It was an outstanding turnout to bring focus to how layoffs will negatively affect our schools and communities,” said Povalitis. “The bottom line is there should be no layoffs.”

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‘Honk if you support our schools’

Parents and faculty bring their case to the public. One sign read: “Honk if you Bruce CotlerParents and faculty bring their case to the public. One sign read: “Honk if you support our schools.” “We got a lot of honking,” Goldberg said. “We are angry at the mayor’s hypocrisy,” said Jason Goldberg, the chapter leader at Brooklyn College Academy in Windsor Terrace. The mayor is threatening teacher layoffs while wasting money on outside contractors and exorbitantly priced software systems, Goldberg said. That anger spurred more than 50 parents and teachers at the school to demonstrate on March 28 against looming city budget cuts and threats to teacher seniority. Goldberg gave full credit for spearheading the rally to parents, who made all the signs and brought much of the snap to the day’s event. He also praised the school’s UFT members who mobilized in no small part because “we read in the papers what happened in Wisconsin, and we won’t let it happen here.” Among the chapter’s future plans: picketing Sen. Marty Golden’s Bay Ridge office after he voted “yes” in Albany on the Senate bill to end seniority-based layoffs.

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Fiery ‘Sunset’ rally

Demonstrators take their message to the public.Bruce CotlerDemonstrators take their message to the public. Some 300 teachers, parents and students from PS 24 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took to the streets on March 25 to tell the public that schools need full funding to forestall layoffs and to provide adequate resources for their children’s educations. The informational picket, which stretched the length of the block, was organized by the PS 24 school leadership team, said Chapter Leader Julia Masi. Teachers worked hand in glove with the school’s parents to make the point that quality education is both a right and a need. “This was parents and kids wanting to make a statement,” said Masi about the largely immigrant school population. “PS 24 is viewed by all of us as the nucleus for community empowerment and cooperation. We all know that we have a vested interest in education, that we’re not opposed to each other, and that cuts harm students.”

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UFTers confront Golden

 UFT District 20 Representative Ellen Driesen gets in state Sen. Marty Golden’s Pat ArnowUFT District 20 Representative Ellen Driesen gets in state Sen. Marty Golden’s face. It was a great day for the Irish — unless you were state Sen. Marty Golden as more than 70 Brooklyn teachers expressed their displeasure with his stance on education issues at the Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 27. Golden, whose southwest Brooklyn district is chockablock with resident civil servants, is a staunch backer of Mayor Bloomberg on laying off teachers, ending seniority, attacking public-sector unions and supporting his Senate Republican leadership in its austerity budget campaign. Area residents view Golden as Bloomberg’s cat’s-paw in Albany. “We’re not letting up,” said UFT District 20 Representative Ellen Driesen. “Golden has hit a raw nerve with constituents. He needs to look at the people who voted for him and reflect their needs in Albany, not the mayor’s.” above: Driesen gets in the senator’s face. left: Armed with signs and spunk, UFTers are ready to confront Sen. Golden.

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Albany trek for NYSUT rally

Mulgrew revs up the crowd.Andrew WatsonMulgrew revs up the crowd. Four busloads of UFTers joined more than 2,000 of their fellow members of New York State United Teachers in Albany on March 22 to protest the proposed state budget that would leave schools reeling while also providing tax breaks to the wealthy. “We have to protect our children,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew told the crowd. “And who is going to do that? The people standing here!” Charles Friedman, one of 75 UFT retirees who made the trek to the Capitol, said he did so because he wanted to make the point that the wealthy should share in the sacrifice of the economic crisis — not the children who had nothing to do with it. “It’s outrageous that the students of New York State have to suffer while the rich will get tax cuts,” Friedman said. “And the students have to pay out of their pockets to support the rich people’s tax cuts.” Almeta Trammel, recording secretary of the chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, said that any talk of laying off teachers was outrageous. “We came to support our teachers because we’re receiving too many cuts in several of our districts — that’s a lot of cuts to New York City,” Trammel said. “We can’t afford to lose the teachers or the staff.”

Call for millionaire’s tax

Menin, flanked by Mulgrew and others, addresses the press.Miller PhotographyMenin, flanked by Mulgrew and others, addresses the press. Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan, joined by UFT President Michael Mulgrew, stood on the steps of Department of Education headquarters on March 23 to demand that millionaires pay their fair share to help the city through tough times. “Children and their futures are at risk right now,” Mulgrew said. Keeping the tax, he said, should be a no-brainer in the face of such hardship. Mulgrew noted that Speaker Sheldon Silver proposed extending the millionaire's tax in the Assembly budget bill. “We represent relatively affluent districts,” said Julie Menin, the chair of Manhattan Community Board 1, which includes Tribeca and Battery Park City. She noted that the surcharge has not prompted wealthy people to move out of town, because they are tied to the city by friends and communities. Overcrowded schools, on the other hand, can drive people out, Menin said. Community Board 1 has been at the forefront of pressing the mayor and the DOE to address severe overcrowding in elementary schools in lower Manhattan. The final state budget, passed on March 31, did not include an extension of the millionaire’s tax, but Silver vowed to continue fighting to extend the tax before it expires in December.

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United for a fair budget

“We are the richest city and state in the nation, and millionaires can and shoulGary Schoichet“We are the richest city and state in the nation, and millionaires can and should share the burden,” Mendel said. The punishing New York State budget wasn’t going to get passed without a fight, as UFT members joined the Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, the Coalition for Educational Justice and other community groups and a host of local and state elected officials on March 27 on the City Hall steps for a unity rally to demand a progressive state budget. The hundreds of rally-goers called for continuing the state’s millionaire’s tax, shielding children from devastating education cuts and strengthening rent laws protecting tenants. Among the speakers was UFT Secretary Michael Mendel who told the enthusiastic crowd that, as a teacher who worked during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, he knew how deep cuts to education can harm children. “Cuts will increase class sizes, end afterschool programs for children who need remediation, gut vital day school programs and hurt schools, parents and the community,” Mendel said. “A society that can’t take care of its children is a society in trouble.” Mendel (at microphone, left) said that while the mantra of elected officials is shared sacrifice, millionaires — who can afford to sacrifice the most — are being asked to sacrifice least. “We are the richest city and state in the nation, and millionaires can and should share the burden,” Mendel said.

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A community candlelight vigil

Marchers gather outside the church before filing in.Bruce CotlerMarchers gather outside the church before filing in. It was advertised as a community candlelight vigil and “March to Protect Our Students and Our Borough.” With glow sticks instead of candles, some 500 teachers, parents, students and community members walked the three blocks from Bronx UFT headquarters to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Westchester Avenue for an enthusiastic rally to save funding for borough schools and stop union busting. The church, the oldest Episcopal church standing in New York City, was festooned with candles as the Rev. Joade A. Dauer-Cardasis — a former public school teacher — welcomed marchers. Among the speakers were the Rev. Carlos Lopez Garcia, chapter leader at District 7’s PS 30 and a leader of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Beverly Roberts, president of the NAACP Parkchester branch; high school seniors at University Heights HS; Vincent Gaglione, the UFT’s director of legislation and political action; and Jose Vargas, Bronx borough representative. Their message was clear: We can’t allow politicians to balance their budgets on the backs of the community or lay off thousands of teachers.

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Parents fight back

The “Grim Reaper,” parent Linwood Harcum, leads 100 protesting parents in their Miller PhotographyThe “Grim Reaper,” parent Linwood Harcum, leads 100 protesting parents in their Fight Back Friday march against budget cuts. More than 100 parents turned out for an early-morning Fight Back Friday march on March 25 to protest budget cuts that threaten the education of their children at PS/IS 187 in Upper Manhattan. Parents came dressed in black and with the “Grim Reaper” in their midst to dramatize how devastating the cuts will be to a school that lost seven teachers to the budget knife last year and faces the loss of another five this year. Victoria Frye, who organized the march and is co-chair of the school leadership team, spoke of the loss of the art teacher last year and the fear this year of losing, among other teachers, a “beloved” music teacher who delights his students with the original songs he creates for them. Parents are concerned about their school which is already “very stretched,” she said. Frye’s husband, with their preschooler on his shoulders, and their 3rd-grader were among the marchers.

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