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Battle to save our children’s education
UFTers march over Brooklyn Bridge to protest cuts
by Micah Landau | June 23, 2011 New York Teacher issue
About 1,000 members of the UFT and 1199 SEIU marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on June 14 to join a thousands-strong labor rally at City Hall, protesting Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed budget cuts and layoffs.
One of several public-sector union leaders to speak at the rally, which was officially hosted by AFSCME’s District Council 37, UFT President Michael Mulgrew condemned the mayor’s plans.
“We’ve said enough is enough,” Mulgrew declared from the podium, expressing the feelings of many of his union’s members.
The mayor has proposed drastic cuts to the public services on which all New Yorkers depend. Among the proposals are slashing $51 million from the city’s child care budget and laying off more than 4,000 public school teachers, a move that will send already high class sizes skyrocketing.
In fact, the UFT and others contend that these cuts are not necessary because the mayor has a budget surplus of $3.2 billion, which he is refusing to spend for political reasons.
Alan Gaston, the UFT chapter leader at Brooklyn’s Freedom Academy HS, described the mayor’s intransigence as “ludicrous.”
“If we have the funding, then the money should be allocated accordingly,” the physical education teacher said. “I understand the mayor wants to keep a balanced budget, but we’re investing in kids here.”
Diane Alles, the chapter leader and a 1st-grade teacher at PS 17, also in Brooklyn, had even harsher words for the mayor.
“The city has the money, but he’s still going to lay off teachers,” the 28-year veteran educator predicted, observing that these would be the first teacher layoffs in New York City since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. “It’s payback for not getting seniority removed in Albany.”
The Urban HS of Music and Art, where Sheryl Smith works as a crisis management educational associate, could lose as many as six educators. Smith said that would be a devastating blow to a school with only 20 teachers.
Smith, who has worked in education for 20 years, is especially concerned about how budget cuts will affect her special education students.
“They won’t receive the services they are entitled to — all of their mandated services will be affected,” she said.
Lynette McCourd, a 4th-grade teacher at Bedford-Stuyvesant’s PS 3, which is slated to lose one teacher this year and lost one teacher last year, said her school is already overcrowded, with 5th-grade class sizes reaching 35 students.
The school, which faces a potential co-location of a charter school inside its building, is also in desperate need of repair. Leaking pipes caused part of the auditorium ceiling to collapse earlier this year, and part of the schoolyard had to be cordoned off because its broken equipment has been deemed unsafe for children, McCourd said. But “instead of repairs, they said we’re going to give you a letter, move you over and let someone else come in.”
In addition to the rally on June 14, unions also demonstrated outside City Hall on June 15. Other protestors, including several teachers, have erected an encampment, “Bloombergville,” outside City Hall Park to oppose budget cuts