Residents denounce closing of libraries, schools, plan protest

ACORN members say poor neighborhoods will be hurt the most

April 03, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Fed-up city residents say they plan to protest tonight the impending closings of nine public schools and five community libraries.

The closings will further hurt struggling neighborhoods, said members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the coalition of 1,300 low- to moderate-income Baltimore families that organized the rally at a Pimlico church.

"It's totally unconscionable in a city that's struggling like this to get rid of these schools and libraries," ACORN spokesman Mitchell Klein said.

The well-to-do members of the city's library board can't understand how much neighborhood libraries mean to low-income areas, Klein added.

The libraries represent hope for a better future in blighted neighborhoods, Park Heights community activist Willie Ray said. Pimlico residents worry that their branch, less than a mile from Ray's home, will be among five libraries in the Enoch Pratt system that will be closed this year because of low usage and budget concerns.

The library has not announced which of its 26 branches will close.

"If these libraries close, there won't be any more libraries for a lot of kids," said Ray, who has lived in his neighborhood 30 years. "A lot of kids won't be able to get to the library because, you know, a lot of people don't have cars."

The area will lose a school, Park Heights Elementary. Baltimore's school board announced last month that seven schools will close this year, another next year and another in 2003. With a capacity for 131,000 students and a population of 98,000, the system maintains too much unused space, board members said in explaining the decision.

Opponents of the closings say students benefit from the small class sizes at some schools. ACORN lists a guarantee of smaller class sizes among the demands it will make to the city at tonight's meeting, scheduled for 6:30 at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Pimlico Road.

Klein said the organization invited Mayor Martin O'Malley, Pratt officials and other politicians to the meeting. The mayor's office had not heard about the meeting as of yesterday afternoon, and O'Malley plans to be in Annapolis this evening, spokesman Tony White said.

A Pratt representative could not be reached for comment.

Some activists, such as Ray, say the mayor has betrayed them by supporting the library closings. O'Malley has said the closings will not hurt the library system.

"How good a library is is not determined by how many branches it has," he said when the closings were announced. "The Enoch said, `Look, we need to become leaner, stronger and better.'"

Norma Washington, a Walbrook mother of three, disagreed. Her neighborhood and other low-income areas will suffer most from the closings, she said.

"It doesn't make any sense," she shouted. "It's totally wrong, and the mayor knows it, too."

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