At Manhattan's Murray Bergtraum High School, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, more than 200 teachers, students, union and community leaders assembled for a statewide "Day of Action" to call on the state legislature to reject the governor's proposed $1.4 million cuts in school aid -- as much as $600 million in cuts to New York City. They said the proposal is an attack on educational quality and a precursor to mass layoffs.
Like eight other press conferences, town hall meetings and protests across New York City, supporters of the public schools spelled out what the cuts would mean to the classroom.
At the Bergtraum rally, with the high school's sheathed exterior making it look as if the building were in mourning, a constant theme raised was that the wealthiest New Yorkers could weather the fiscal crisis for their own children, leaving the city's poorest children to carry the burden.
"The proposed budget would cut $11,677 from classrooms across this state," said Zakiyah Ansari of the Alliance for Quality Education, "Many of our children are already in schools with overcrowded classrooms, without textbooks, art programs or tutoring programs. We as parents will not sit back quietly and allow these cuts on top of the broken promises [of full and timely funding promised by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision.] We must provide the funding necessary for real and urgent school reform. Our children deserve the best education possible and the first step is funding our schools, not cutting them."
UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who led a boisterous chant of "Save Our Schools," insisted the legislature reject the Paterson school cuts and find better ways to shrink the state's yawning deficit.
"Don't forfeit children's futures just because you can't figure out what to do. People concentrate on failing schools, but there are a lot of great schools in New York doing a lot of great work that we can't let slip backwards now… Education must remain a top priority even during tough economic times, and we need to protect our children's future and preserve the quality education every child deserves. This is the crossroads time," Mulgrew said.
Social studies teacher John Elfrank, the school's UFT chapter leader, and a 20-year teaching veteran at a school that at present has 134 overcrowded classes, painted a stark picture. "The cuts mean no paper, crowded hallways and more fights. It means not enough desks, It means printers and copiers broken and that won't be fixed." He said his school had seen problems before, ""but this one is especially difficult because we now have a higher-needs population, the outcome of the city's efforts to close what it considers failing schools and relocate students."
Addressing the state legislature, Elfrank said, "you can't move education reform without adequate funding."
Also speaking at the rally was CSA President Ernest Logan, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity's Shirley Feinberg and UFT Manhattan High Schools Representative Tom Dromgoole.
Other city protests went on at MS 54, the Booker T. Washington School in Manhattan, PS 11 in the Bronx, IS 318 Eugenio Maria De Hostos, PS 13 Roberto Clemente and IS 171 Abraham Lincoln in Brooklyn. Rallies were also held at IS 125, the Thomas J. McCann School and at the offices of Make the Road NY in Queens as well as at PS 45 on Staten Island.