Friday, April 1, 2011

UPDATED: Rally at City Hall and Close Encounters of the Heated Kind with Mayor Mike by Leonie Haimson - NYC Public School Parents:

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We had a great rally this morning at City Hall to protest the budget cuts to schools. About fifty parents turned up, some with their children, with signs pasted to their jackets saying, “Do not balance the budget on our backs.”

Joining us were Council Members Robert Jackson and Margaret Chin of Manhattan, Mark Weprin of Queens, Jumaane Williams and Matthieu Eugene of Brooklyn, and Diana Reyna of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Leroy Barr, staff director of the UFT and Donovan Richards, CM Sanders chief of staff.

At the end of the rally we had an unexpected encounter with Bloomberg himself. Pictures from the rally and our encounter with Mayor Mike are now up on the CSM Facebook page .

At the press conference, I showed charts revealing the sharp increases in class size that have already occurred, as well as a chart with the worsening distribution of income in NYC and NY state.

Eliminating 6,000 teaching positions would be an absolute disaster for our children, and would lead to even further increases in class size, probably the sharpest in over 30 years. I concluded that though the mayor may want to roll over the city’s $3 billion surplus, we as parents will not roll over when it comes to our children.

All of the elected officials were eloquent in their defense of our children’s right to a quality education, and pledged that they would fight hard to make sure that there would be no further increases in class size or any cuts to the classroom in the city’s education budget. I handed CM Jackson our petition with over 1,000 signatures and asked him to give it to Speaker Quinn, who will have to protect our children in the budget negotiations.

He emphasized that there was no need for any cuts with the city’s $3 billion surplus; Mark Weprin pointed out that there were plenty other areas that were expendable in the DOE spending policies, including wasteful testing, technology enhancements, consultants and private contracts. CM Chin said as a former teacher and married to a teacher, she knew full well how important class size is and that we cannot afford to let class sizes grow any more. Both Jumaane Williams and Matthieu Eugent pointed out that focusing on improving education is the best investment the city can make.

Sue Dietrich, Staten Island parent and head of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, representing all the PTAs in the city, said her son’s class was already at 34 students; and that it can’t possibly go any higher. She pointed out that the city’s arts programs, like the great chorus at PS 22 that sang at the Oscars, could be lost if there were any more budget cuts to schools.

Noah Gotbaum, President of CEC D3, said the Governor and the Mayor should be ashamed of themselves for favoring millionaires over our kids, and that though Cuomo talked about “shared sacrifice” it was hard to see what if anything the wealthy had sacrificed in this budget.

Lisa Donlan, parent leader and member of the Grassroots Education Movement led us in a chant, “Whose schools? Our schools! Whose taxes? Our taxes? Whose priorities? Our priorities!” Sarah Porter, parent activist from PS132K in Williamsburg, wrapped up by pointing out the mayor’s math was defective and that he needed remedial lessons, since there was no need to cut 6,000 teachers with such a large surplus.

After the rally was over, some of us remained talking on the plaza in front of City Hall, including Sarah, Tina Schiller of PS 234, and Benita Rivera of the Mother’s Agenda, when I noticed the Mayor walking down the steps.

I waved to him and shouted, “Please, Mr. Mayor, do not balance the budget on our children’s backs” and that “Millionaires should pay more, including you!”

To my surprise, he briskly walked over to us. He asked if we were teachers, and we said, no, parents. I showed him the class size charts, and asked him if he would want to have his child in such large classes; how could he consider letting them increase even more?

He countered by saying that city had been subjected to big cuts from the feds and the state and we should criticize them, not him. I followed up by pointing out that the city’s had a $3 billion surplus, but he claimed that there was no surplus; when we disputed that, he added that he needed to save the surplus for the year after.

I told him that I knew he wanted to roll over the surplus, but our kids cannot have their education further damaged. We said he should use the surplus now to fill holes in this year’s budget, and if he needed more money, he should raise city taxes on the wealthy. He said, go tell Albany; and that he’s been up there arguing with them.

We pointed out that he didn’t go to Albany to support the surtax on the wealthy but that he had instead opposed this. Several times he said, “Listen to me! I won’t talk unless you listen to me!” After about five minutes, he got tired of the discussion, and walked off.

Luckily, Benita Rivera was snapping photos with her cell phone; these are on the CSM Facebook page along with earlier ones from the rally, taken by Michelle Faljean of the SI Federation of PTAs:

Thanks Benita, Michelle, and everyone who came today!

After our exchange with the mayor, Erin Einhorn, City Hall Daily News reporter ran over, along with Samantha Gross of the AP, to ask us about it. She has already posted an account of our debate on the DN blog, entitled Mayor Bloomberg Listens! (But Does He Hear?)

Go check it out and leave a comment! And please leave a comment below.