"County Executive Neall, leave our schools alone."
That message was chanted over and over in front of the Arundel Center in Annapolis yesterday evening, as 2,000 students, parents, school system employees and county workers gathered to demand that politics and education remain separate.
By the time protesters reached the State House steps shortly after 6 p.m., local protesters had been joined by representatives from school systems throughout the state. Annapolis police estimated the crowd at more than 7,000.
Members of the Chesapeake Association of Student Councils and various parent-teacher associations joined representatives from the school-based Citizens Advisory Committees. The fourunions representing school employees were there too, demanding that jobs be spared and that County Executive Robert R. Neall step away from education issues.
Signs such as "Save Our Schools" and "Neall Hates Kids were carried through the streets. Police delayed the large group, which had assembled in the stadium parking lot at 4 p.m., to block off Rowe Boulevard and provide escorts.
Traffic was backed uponto routes 50 and 2 for about an hour as the trail of marchers madeits way through the historic district.
The march from the Naval Academy Marine Corps Stadium down Rowe Boulevard helped Daniell Bradley, 15, keep her mind off the throbbing pain in her mouth. Even after having four molars removed, she said she did not want to miss the rally.
"They should try to keep people in school," Daniell said, clutchingher bottle of Chloraseptic. "I'm in pain, but I think it's important to be here. I believe it's my responsibility to be here. It's myfuture that's at stake."
Passing cars blew horns in support of the marchers. Mothers pushed strollers while they and their youngsters wore placards asking for the county's pre-kindergarten program to be spared. Students scaled the brick ramp at the Arundel Center to get their message out: "Cut MSPP (Maryland School Performance Program) NotOur Programs."
The rally, organized by the countywide PTA and other parents groups, was a last-minute effort to keep Gov. William Donald Schaefer from signing an amendment that would give Neall and othercounty executives the authority to make limited cuts from within theschool system's budget.
"Our first concern is that this amendmentwas brought before the General Assembly one minute past 7 p.m. on a Friday night, with Monday being a holiday," Countywide PTA President Carolyn Roeding told the crowd at the Arundel Center. "I don't think our legislators knew the importance this would have. They need to leave education to our school board. Our message is simple. Keep politicians out of education."
Speaker after speaker took the bullhorn and kept the crowd cheering, chanting and booing. Even before speeches were completed, the crowd would break off into cheers of "save our schools." Whenever Neall's name was mentioned, a loud "no, no, no" or "down with Neall" ocould be heard.
While the crowds took to the streets, school board and County Council members met behind closed doorsat the Arundel Center. After about two hours, board members joined the crowds.
"I think this demonstrates a great deal of public concern about shifting power from the Board of Education," School Board Vice President Vince Leggett said. "I hope the message will be receivedby the governor."