Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thousands rally against school budget cuts in Boston

 COMMENT  | Abbey Scott

Amongst the immanent rush hour of Downtown Boston, around 1,200 people gathered this Wednesday protesting against budget cuts and privatization in the Boston Public School system. As the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) said in a statement, “Why is it that Wall Street gets the bail-outs? It’s our school systems that need the bail-outs!” This was the exact sentiment carried out through the rally; everywhere, with everyone, and true as ever!

Within the two hour rally, teachers, janitors, parents, and students flooded 26 Court Street near Government Center, where school committee members were discussing $60 million in cuts. Mouth buzzers, drums, hopeful shouting, and a euphonium filled the ears of the protesters, and hopefully the ears of the school committee members.

After a few motivational speeches, given by a handful of union leaders, the crowd moved itself to the back of the building where the committee members were congregating inside. The shouting grew louder, and the instrumental accompaniment beat steadily. Posters flew everywhere, drawing in closer and closer to the windows of the building. One protester shouted, “This government better expect this for the next 10 years if they don’t make a real change.” In response a union leader said, “We cannot balance this budget on the backs of workers, we will not back down! Not now, not ever!”

Privatization has been the looming alternative to many struggling school systems all across the country, as budget cuts become more and more intolerable. Take what happened in Central Falls, Rhode Island for instance; because of low test scores within the student body, the entire staff was fired.

As charter schools seem to be the rising trend amongst “failing” school systems, some may not be fully aware of the fact that charter schools bust unions, bring wages down drastically, and leave everyone fighting for themselves. Rather than working together as a union, teachers must individually maintain their jobs and prepare lessons with minimal time, all to meet the new demands of the charter school operators. This leaves jobs on the line, with no where to fall, turning a learning community into just another corporation for Wall Street to feed off of.

“If a school system continues to fail it’s students year after year, if it continues to show no improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability.” This was President Barak Obama’s response to the tragedy in Central Falls. However, whether the incident lies in the New York City schools, or Boston Public Schools, who is to blame? The teachers, who are doing the best they can with what they’ve been given? Or do you blame budget cuts, which prevent teachers from attaining the supplies they need, and adequate space for teaching? It would be wrong to expect someone to maintain their lawn without a lawnmower of sorts. Same goes with teachers and their abilities to teach without supplies.

At the rally yesterday, students from the O’Brien school shouted, “We want French class! We want electives!” They, as well as several middle grade and high schools are facing the same potential budget cuts. Manny Rios Alers stated, “If this new budget presents a huge enough cut, we will lose teachers! We’ll have fewer courses, such as AP courses and various electives. There has been an increase in students in each class, and that will only grow as this budget gets worse.”

It is easy to see how students would feel like they’re in a boat without a paddle, when they’re in a class of thirty students with one teacher. Again, it would be impossible to expect one underpaid, overworked teacher to fulfill the needs of 30 students in one class period. Never mind the hundreds of other students they may encounter throughout their courses.

Cutting a course such as French, or any language for that matter, could be the reason why a student does not get accepted to college. Most 4 year colleges and universities require at least three years of a language. Same goes with any course having to do with the arts, which a withering away as budget cuts grow. At the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, right outside of Boston, it is required that you graduate with 40 credits in the arts, which some colleges require as well.

Bottom line, with less challenging courses available, students have a lesser chance of getting into the universities of their choice. Not to mention, the budget cuts from public universities such as the University of Massachusetts, and other universities across the country, which present another major problem.

Within the middle grade schools, budget cuts could mean an end to their transportation to and from school. This would mean more than 10,000+ middle school students would be left to ride the public transportation. That age range consists of anywhere between 9 years to 15 years of age. These students would also be required to pay for public transportation monthly.

Clearly, this is going to be a long-term fight. In the end, the school committee went ahead and voted to cut the planned $60 million from the budget, including the elimination of 292 employees, among them 11 teachers, 10 teachers’ aides, 83 custodians, 10 administrators, and 45 clerks.

Yesterday's rally didn't stop the cuts from going through. Yet, just as important, it served as an opening salvo for the kind of fightback that will be required of the labor movement and working people if they are to resist (let alone roll-back) the inevitable attacks in the months and years to come.