2004-09-10 / Columnists

School Scope

So Many Demos, So Little Time
By Norman Scott

It’s been a busy few weeks. What with all these demonstrations going on, finding which ones to attend from a schmorgasbord of choices can be difficult. I know one thing: I’m not participating in any demos where you have to go nude.

PEP Rally, Monday, Aug. 23: The usual shenanigans at the monthly Panel for Educational Policy meeting at Tweed, the nerve center of the NYC Dept of Education. Or should I say, what a nerve! The main idea of this meeting was the passing of the budget. Actually, the bludgeoning of the budget. A press conference organized by AQE- Alliance for Quality Education before the meeting – highlighted inequalities with the formula being used by the DOE. Parents, students, teachers and UFT officials made a number of very valid points.

Stealth budget cuts were made in July and were supposedly being restored as a result of the state passing a budget. The dislocation and chaos caused by these summer cuts after schools had already organized the coming year were not trivial. Some schools were cut a million dollars. Throughout July there was obfuscation and outright deception from the DOE. The Mayor said that there would be no need for any layoffs, and Klein’s chief honcho, Michelle Cahill, claimed that principals who talked about cuts were “confused”. The Mayor’s spokesperson was quoted as saying that the cuts were merely “perceptual.”

Though some of these cuts were supposedly being restored, many people pointed out these were not being done equitably. So some parents and teachers are coming back to school in September to find a very different landscape.

The DOE has now cut classrooms and schools for three years in a row, while overall education spending has stayed the same. Where has the difference in money gone? For all their little pet projects, including a massive public relations department.

A letter signed by over 400 educators and parents circulated by ClassSizeMatters (www. Classsizematters.com) said: You, Mayor Bloomberg, ran on a promise that you would improve education by providing more resources to the classroom instead of the bureaucracy, but now you are doing the opposite. When asked if budget cuts would also be made at Tweed and at regional offices, the Department of Education finance director was quoted in the NY Times that “it still remains to be seen whether we’re going to have administrative cuts or not.”

We urge you to stand by your campaign promises, and restore all budget cuts to our schools and classrooms immediately. Otherwise, our children’s educational opportunities will suffer. If you feel the need to make savings, we respectfully suggest that you start by cutting administrative positions, salaries, and consulting contracts at Tweed instead.

There are rumors of new, multi-million dollar consulting contracts being put out to bid by Tweed. And the NY Post reported that 40% of the city employees who receive salaries of $150,000 or more work at DOE. Where are the cuts to the PR department, consultant contracts, the lis’s, ris’s, fis’s, pis’s, etc.? We are waiting for the mainstream press to do its job and show where the money is really going. We are not holding our breath.

Among the PEP members, Martine Guerrier, the Brooklyn rep, has been the only one to consistently challenge the BloomKlein mantra. She proposed an amendment that all school budgets should be preserved until there was certainty from Albany that the state budget would be cut, rather than make reductions in advance, some of which later might be restored, which has happened so often in years past. Klein argued that her amendment should be tabled “for further study.” The budget passed 7-1. Just before he voted in favor, Philip A. Berry, an executive at Colgate-Palmolive and a Mayoral appointee, said “one just has to wonder and hope that we are doing the right thing…This is not an easy budget to vote for. I don’t feel good about this.’’ Let’s hope he catches the fever from Martine Guerrier and doesn’t just drink the Cool-aid.

Pataki-Bush: Leave No Child behind. Well, maybe a few. Friday, Aug. 1: Just as I am heading to the beach, I get an email that George Pataki is going to be at the Chelsea Piers and a group is organizing a quick demo to castigate him for his castration of the education budget and refusal to fund schools equitably. There’s a hint of a free tee shirt that says: Bush-Pataki: Leave No Child Behind. Had enough beach, so I head on over. There are about 12 of us. We find that Pataki and his party will be going out on a yacht docked at the Chelsea Piers. We stand on the pier watching him and his cronies have cocktails and hors d’oeuvres while we chant: Money for schools, not cocktails. People nervously peer out at us. Luckily we don’t look very dangerous, so security and the cops leave us alone. I even detect some secret smiles from some of the cops. Some people walking by take our leaflet and join us. This goes on for about 15 minutes until the boat pulls away. We wave goodbye and some fat cats wave back with a sarcastic sneer. There must have been at least a few Republicans on that boat. Only downer? The organizers need the tee shirt back for more demos. Hope they take it to the laundry.

The big enchilada. Sunday, Aug. 29 : How did it feel to be part of a group numbering 200- 400 thousand? The press presented the demo as focused only on war. But it was a lot more than that and included environmental, health care and education issues, all wars of another kind. So there were lots of signs at Sunday’s demo saying “Money for education, Not war.”

Many people view Bush education policy – NCLB and all that stuff – as a war on public education. The goal? Trash public schools in order to push for as much privatization as possible. The business community is increasingly driving the agendas of education. Can it be long before we see Halliburton running the NYC school system?

In spite of the heat, it was a beautiful day. Other than a few minor incidents (The NY Post naturally played up these) everyone had a blast. Even many of the police seemed to enjoy some of the humor and street theater being presented (though a few requested that the next time we protest we do it in October when it’s cooler). Notable was CODEPINK (a woman-imitated grass-roots peace and social justice movement) with many of the ladies wearing pink slips as a symbol of their urging people to “give Bush the pink slip.” They followed up Sunday’s events later in the week with Breakfast at Tiffany’s and an attempt to gather 1000 people in Central Park to create a pink Statue of Liberty for an aerial photo. They also held a “shut-up-athon” in front of FOX headquarters.

Notable for street theater were “Billionaires for Bush,” dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns with slogans like: “Tax Wages Not Wealth,” “Lower the Minimum Wage,” “Small Government, Big Wars,” “Big Pharma=Good Karma, “Money for War and Occupation, Not for Jobs and Education, “Why Change Horsemen in mid-Appocalypse,” “Free the Enron 7,” “2 Million jobs lost – It’s a start.” “Privatize Central Park” got a nice reaction. Most people got the joke, but a few actually thought they were really pro-Bush. When the real pro-Bushers on the sidelines shouted “4 more years,” we answered with “4 more months.”

We rushed up to the Great Lawn in Central Park just to make sure it was still public property and found a few hundred people having a great time debating and singing in spite of the Bloomberg ban.

Weds, Sept 1: Labor Unions Demonstrate 3:30 PM: We get our UFT tee shirts with the slogan “A union of professionals.” Someone must be breathing BloomKlein laughing gas. Do any teachers out there feel like professionals?

Time to head to a bar to get fortified for the demo. We hang out with a couple of electrical workers from Local 3 but have to vacate the bar by 4 PM, as a bunch of Republicans were due for a reception. We urged the bartenders to serve school lunchroom food. Hmmm. What happened to all that cheese Ronald Reagan gave to the schools? 4 PM: The Rally starts. Lots of speeches. Lots of boring speeches. About an hour is enough. We don’t stay to hear Randi Weingarten’s speech. We think we’ve heard it before. Back to the bar. Hopefully one without a Republican reception. This one is packed with workers from all unions, especially “Ironworkers, for Kerry.” 6 PM: Time to head over to Battery Park for the CODEPINK “Axis of Eve Panty Performance Protest” where people are urged to flash panties with the “Axis of Eve. “ On second thought, I’ll just stay and have another beer. I forgot to bring my pink panties. Maybe the next time the Republicans hold their convention in NY.

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