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Thousands Protest Teachers Layoffs and Budget Cuts

Reprint, May 16, 2001

By Micah Landau, Cara Metz and Michael Hirsch published May 12, 2011,
Photo By Miller Photography

Lower Manhattan on May 12 was flooded with tens of thousands of educators, other unionized workers, students, community advocates and New Yorkers of all stripes calling for a fundamental reordering of the city’s priorities.

“This city is upside down,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew to the huge crowd of UFT members, students and parents who gathered outside City Hall.“It’s not working for all of us and that’s why we are out here today. We want a city that works for everyone.”

“We are the middle class workers who built this city and we deserve to be treated with dignity,” said Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook as the protesters roared their approval. “This city belongs to us not the rich, not the powerful.”

The UFT protesters, who marched en masse to Wall Street after the City Hall rally, were united in their outrage at Mayor Bloomberg’s insistence on teacher layoffs when the city has a large budget surplus.

“They’re using the kids as political footballs,” said Suzanne O’Brien from IS 51 in Staten Island. “Wall Street gets away with murder and the most vulnerable pay the price.”

Among the protesters was a spirited group of fifth-graders from PS 156 in Brownsville, waving handmade signs opposing the layoffs.

“We need our teachers or class sizes will become bigger,” said Tiyanna, who was exuberantly chanting “King Mike! Take a hike!”

The crowd was filled with teachers with disturbing tales of how layoffs would devastate their schools.

Dena Schwartz from PS 189 in the Bronx said her four-year-old school would lose 17 teachers 47 percent of its entire teaching staff. Maria Herrera and Damaras Solis Padilla from Columbia Secondary School in Harlem said their school was slated to lose 79 percent of the school’s faculty.

Math teacher Judith Glazer, the chapter leader at IS 125 in Woodside, said her school had been notified that five teachers would be laid off and 31 were in danger of being bumped to other schools.

“I am here to fight for the children, our staff and our rights,” said Glazer, who brought 45 of her colleagues to the rally. “If Bloomberg is the education mayor, he shouldn’t be looking for layoffs. Enough is enough. We are not going back to 1975.”

Victoria Mulligan, a science teacher at PS 78 in Long Island City, said she felt compelled to stand up for the children. “What the mayor is doing is not in support of the children, it is in support of his agenda,” she said.

Laura Daigen Ayala, at the rally with her colleagues from PS 48 in Manhattan, blasted the mayor for balancing the city budget on the backs of kids and teachers.

“This is a city with a budget surplus and millionaires and billionaires are getting tax breaks,” she said. “The DOE website says ‘Children First;’ well, we’ve been devoting our lives to children while the mayor has been devoting his life to making money.”

Also at the rally were AFT President Randi Weingarten, the Rev. Al Sharpton, state NAACP President Hazel Dukes, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and a number of state legislators and City Council members.

The UFT marchers met up in the Water Street area with thousands of activists representing other sectors of the city economy, including transit workers, CUNY faculty and students, housing advocates and AIDs and homeless advocates.

Michael Richardson, a tower operator for NYC Transit subways, said the teachers’ fight with Bloomberg hit close to home for him.

“What happens to city workers like school teachers happens to us,” Richardson said. “If teachers get laid off arbitrarily, and if seniority means nothing, we could be next. It’s a slippery slope.”

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