Thousands protest Boston school cuts
Published Apr 1, 2010 9:22 PM
By Steve Gillis, Peter Cook & Frank Neisser
In response to Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s announced massive defunding of and charter privatization program for Boston’s public schools, over 2,000 people shut down the streets surrounding a building where Menino’s hand-picked Boston School Committee was voting on March 24 to approve nearly $60 million in budget cuts. The boisterous protest was organized by the Boston Teachers Union, the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, Boston Public Schools Custodians, and the Boston School Bus Drivers Union to demand, “Full Funding for Public Education, No Budget Cuts!”
Andre Francois of school bus drivers’ union
addresses rally as Boston police block door to
School Committee public hearing.
WW photo: Maureen Skehan
The militant outpouring of parents, students, teachers, custodians, bus drivers and monitors and other community activists and supporters took over the School Department plaza, with noisemakers and loudspeakers broadcasting their anger. For the first time in years, unity and solidarity of the entire school workforce and communities confronted Menino’s and city bondholders’ plan.
Denouncing the layoffs and program cuts were Richard Stutman, Boston Teachers Union president; Robert Haynes, Massachusetts AFL-CIO president; Rich Rogers of the Greater Boston Labor Council; Dave Jelley, Custodians Union president; Steve Gillis, Boston School Bus Drivers Union vice president; Sandra McIntosh, Coalition for Equal Quality Education; City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Charles Yancey; as well as a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, students, Bail Out the People Movement, Women’s Fightback Network, Fight Imperialism, Stand Together , and many others. The Women’s Fightback Network led an
International Women’s Day march that began at the State House and ended outside the School Committee meeting to join the rally.
The multigenerational and multinational crowd, including many immigrant workers, cheered as many speakers raised the slogans, “Money for Schools, Not for War!” and “Bail Out the Schools, Not the Banks!” Placards condemned privatization of education through charter schools and plans to resegregate “neighborhood” schools. Flyers for the Bail Out the People Movement’s May 8th National Jobs Protest in Washington, D.C., were well received.
Several times people surrounded the building and climbed up into the windows to hang signs and chant into the chamber where the School Committee was cloistered, hearing testimony for even more massive cuts to school workers’ health care insurance from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, the city’s business mouthpiece.
The Bureau had recently succeeded in writing massive cuts into Menino’s general 2011 budget, slashing public services from libraries to housing to snow removal, while increasing payments to bondholders and establishing new police outstations in all the city’s public housing developments.
The school committee chamber holds only 167 people, so protesters loudly raised the issue of the legitimacy of the vote to approve the new budget, arguing that the meeting should have taken place in a larger hall so that those who are most impacted by the cuts have the opportunity to express their outrage over the bondholders’ budget.
Police Special Forces surrounded the building’s perimeter and blockaded the doors, calling in motorcycle reinforcements and wagons, effectively turning the school’s public headquarters into an armed camp. A determined contingent led by members of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union and the Custodians Union attempted to enter the building, but cops jamming with sharp batons and school administrators frantically tugging on doors engaged the workers, students and community leaders in a 10-minute scuffle, forcibly preventing the public from entering on the phony pretext of fire codes.
Despite the overwhelming show of force by the cops the demonstration was a strong step in building the unity necessary for the struggles ahead. Some victories were also secured, including School Superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson’s withdrawal of her plan to kick middle school students off school buses, citing public protest to the clearly unsafe proposal. However, School Committee members took turns wringing their hands about future school closings, program eliminations, layoffs and the gutting of student rights, like transportation and nutrition, and then promptly and unanimously passed the cuts.
The next stage of the struggle goes to the Boston City Council, which must approve the school budget. Today’s newly energized community, labor and education advocates are already planning stepped up protests.
Gillis is vice president of the Boston School Bus Drivers union. Cook is a member of the Boston Teachers Union.