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NYC Teachers Take on the Mayor and the Banks

By Alan Singer, 5/9/11

New York City teachers and the United Federation of Teachers have initiated a militant and radical response to the latest budget cut proposals made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As a victim of the 1975 New York City financial crisis, and as a teacher educator, I wholeheartedly support their actions including a proposed "people's budget" and a massive protest march scheduled for Thursday afternoon, May 12. Teachers, parents, and students will rally at City Hall Park at 4:00 p.m. and then march down Broadway and through Wall Street.

In 1975, New York was on the verge of bankruptcy. Denied federal and state support, the city announced it would lay off 13,000 teachers. By September 1975, the number was paired down to 5,000, including me. I worked as a substitute teacher off and on for three years waiting to be reappointed. Many young teachers drifted into other fields never to return. Class sizes in the high schools soared to over sixty and rarely dropped below forty. Students and teachers were continually being shifted around and education suffered dramatically. It took a decade for the ship to right itself. A generation of students were sacrificed. This cannot be allowed to happen again.

On Friday, May 6, Bloomberg announced a budget that requires teachers and students to pay for the economic problems of the city, state, and nation. In his proposed budget, he called for the elimination of over 6,000 teaching positions, 2,000 by attrition and 4,000 by layoff. The budget still must be approved by the City Council and there is some suspicion that Bloomberg, who blamed the state and federal governments for the crisis in education, may be using the cuts and layoffs to press for more state and federal funds.

According to the United Federation of Teachers website, "All around us, teachers, public employees, poor and working people are under attack like never before. Here in New York City, the assault is being led by Mayor Bloomberg, and his weapon of choice is the budget. The mayor is proposing drastic cuts in his budget that would savage our city's most vulnerable citizens. All while protecting the only people in New York who could afford to give back and who aren't paying their fare share -- Wall Street bankers and other millionaires."

According to the coalition that is organizing the protest the march will head down Broadway and through Wall Street because "The Big Banks crashed our economy, destroying jobs, foreclosing on millions of homes and wrecking city and state budgets across the country. After trillions in taxpayer funded bailouts, Wall Street is making billions in profits and giving away record bonuses to CEOs. But our communities are still hurting. Here in New York City, tens of thousands have lost their homes and their jobs. Now, Billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg is proposing devastating budget cuts as the only solution to the economic crisis that Wall Street caused. Enough is Enough."

The People's Budget, endorsed by the coalition and the teachers' union, includes the following demands:
1. Save $120 million by ending special tax deductions for the city's 5,000 millionaires.
2. Save over $100 million by regulating bank practices and eliminating "toxic interest rate swaps."
3. Save $185 million by preventing mortgage foreclosures that take property off of the tax rolls.
4. Save $120 million by terminating or renegotiating inappropriate municipal contracts with the banks.
5. Eliminate the $139 million in funding to privately operated charter schools.

In addition to May 12, teachers across the nation are organizing for a Save Our Schools conference and protest rally to be held at American University in Washington D.C. July 28 through July 30. They are calling for equitable funding for all public school communities; an end to high stakes testing for student, teacher, and school evaluations; curriculum developed for and by local school communities; and teacher, family, and community leadership in forming public education policies.