Volume 23, Number 6 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | June 18 - 24, 2010
Teachers and workers send message to Mayor Bloomberg
BY Michael Mandelkern
Several thousand members of the United Federation of Teachers voiced their outrage in front of City Hall on Wednesday at the looming $493 million in state cuts to the city’s public schools. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been lambasted for not doing enough to ease the burden.
N.Y.P.D. officers set up barricades from Park Place to near Canal Street, sectioning off the City Hall side of Broadway entirely for the protestors and directing the heavy traffic. Some of them raised signs in the air with phrases such as “education cuts equal a nation at risk” and “do not balance the budget on our students’ backs.”
“All we’re asking for is our fair share,” shouted Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association, prompting an enthusiastic response from the audience. Although a predominantly U.F.T. event, there were groups of other city workers, including firemen and transit workers.
U.F.T. President Michael Mulgrew hosted speeches from several labor union leaders and politicians that resonated through several loudspeakers and were broadcasted over two Jumbotrons.
Some passing cars honked in support and tourists atop double-decker buses waved and snapped photographs.
As the rally progressed, the speakers and audience began to resemble a fired-up tribe ready for battle. Dennis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, urged them to “tell the mayor ‘we will not back down.’ We will not be pushed around.”
The bombardments of insults on Bloomberg were also dropped from the youth. Adolfo Abreu, a 17-year-old high school student, demanded that the mayor allocate more money to public education and build more schools.
“He needs rehab because he’s addicted to cutting our resources,” he said.
“We will be treated with respect or shut you down,” roared Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook
“We’re united for the working people, and I’m ashamed of what’s going on,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
“Albany has one more chance to get it right. We can win this battle together,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
If the proposed state budget is passed, the cuts could exacerbate teacher attrition, when teachers move or retire, and teacher excess, when schools cut or reduce programs, resulting in larger class sizes, and a reduction of school resources. Schools would have to uniquely prioritize which aspects to draw back on and or cut.
Dennis Gault, a tenured teacher at P.S. 19, which is located in District 1, and U.F.T. chapter leader of his school, is not convinced that the setback is necessary.
“There are other common sense methods to make up for the budget shortfall. I’m a parent so this causes great concern to me,” he said.
Gault, who was at the protest, proposed levying taxes on those generating an income of over $250,000 to make up for the budget shortfall and charging grocery shoppers 10 cents per plastic bag.
“Why make our school children pay a price? I find it unacceptable,” he said. Gault believes the city’s 80,000 public school teachers are highly qualified but that a “teacher can really get to know each student” only when classes are small.
Mark Lavorgna, spokesman for the mayor, believes, however, that the protestors are disregarding Bloomberg’s $1 billion increase in city tax revenue for public schools. “Did they mention that?” asked Lavorgna in reference to Gault’s viewpoint. “That should not be overlooked.”
He emphasized that New York City does not have the power to raise income taxes. Lavorgna did acknowledge that the city could raise property taxes, “but no one wants to see them pay more,” he said.
Lavorgna added that Bloomberg, state legislators and Mulgrew all met in Albany with Governor Paterson last week to discuss protecting education funding. He also referred to the mayor’s recent decision, which factors in state cuts, not to layoff any teachers in the next fiscal year in turn for not raising teacher’s salaries by 2 percent.
Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, believes that no one should be immune from the sting of budget cuts, especially during a recession
“I don’t know what else they [the city Dept. of Ed.] really expected. It’s not the apocalypse,” she said, claiming that the city Dept. of Ed. receives ample funding.
Kellermann thinks taxing the wealthy as a solution is “counterproductive” because it might cause them to change their residence.
She called consumption taxes, such as a grocery bag tax, targeted to a particular population, a “dangerous road to travel down” because it would prompt others to rally for their own funding.
“This is a dramatic overreaction, at this point it’s about raises for teachers,” speculated Kellermann.
“That’s cynical; that’s not why I’m showing up. It’s for more altruistic reasons. We’re trying to encourage the mayor to think of different funding sources,” said Gault when he heard of the allegation.
The U.F.T., however, doesn’t accept the idea that there is nothing to protest about. Mulgrew, who visited Albany with Bloomberg last week, is pleased that the mayor won’t layoff teachers but is focused on how the mayor eases the severity of the nearly $500 million in potential state education cuts.
“He also has the power to take other steps to help deal with our schools’ budget problems, such as opting into the state’s early retirement incentive, which would potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars; and using more of the estimated $3.27 billion surplus that is being rolled into fiscal 2011 to replace reductions in state education funding,” wrote Mulgrew in a statement on the U.F.T. website.
State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents Lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, has been openly critical of the half a billion that could be stripped away from city public schools.
“That level of cuts isn’t acceptable,” he said.
Squadron and the State Senate will be holding weekly budget extender meetings with the governor until New York passes its 11 week-overdue budget.
I’m pushing to restore as much education money as we can,” asserted Squadron. “I hope we can all agree.”
As outlined in the City Charter, New York City must pass its budget by June 30 or relinquish its budget authority to the Financial Control Board.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan and leads the School Overcrowding Task Force, vows not to compromise New York’s quality of education.
“We simply cannot afford to shortchange our children. I will continue to lead the effort in Albany to provide children with all the resources they need,” wrote Silver in an e-mail statement. “I have drawn a line in the sand: I will not allow the budget to be balanced on the backs of our children.”
Silver and some of his colleagues approved pledging $600 million to schools.
“I am proud of my record of increasing state funding to city schools by more than $1 billion, leading the fight to expand universal pre-K and helping create new schools throughout Lower Manhattan,” he wrote.
At 5 p.m., one hour after the mass protest officially began, spirited children, parents and teachers marched over from all angles. As loud as they were, the mayor wasn’t in his office to hear them. However, he is sure to hear of the protest.