60 parents, activists protest city school cuts

ACORN seeks to stave off system's planned layoffs

November 21, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

More than 60 parents, union workers and activists gathered last night to plan a course of action that they hope will stave off the deep cuts Baltimore school system leaders have said will have to take place because of a looming budget deficit.

Members of the political action group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now convened the group for a Stop the School Cuts Campaign meeting, where frustrated community members protested, among other things, the city school system's plan to lay off as many as 1,000 employees beginning next week.

School officials have said that if hundreds of district workers aren't laid off, the system - which has accumulated a $52 million deficit - is likely to be bankrupt by the end of the school year.

"It's amazing to me that they have a cost overrun in the ... millions of dollars and my son doesn't have a school library," said Glenn Scott, whose son attends a Southwest Baltimore elementary school.

Officials said the first to be cut will be the system's high-level positions, then workers who are not affiliated with any unions, temporary employees, consultants and contract workers.

But school custodian Dana Irby said many maintenance workers and groundskeepers are afraid for their jobs.

"People are on edge right now," he said. "People are worried about how they're going to feed their families."

In addition, he said, a reduction in maintenance workers would be a blow to the city's old, deteriorating buildings.

"I've worked in several schools where they are poorly understaffed," Irby said. "They have cut our materials for cleaning. We no longer get bleach to clean the bathrooms anymore."

Many at the meeting angrily listed other things they say are lacking in city schools: libraries, qualified teachers, small class sizes and toilet paper.

"They found money to build a new juvenile center," said ACORN member Wendy Foy, who has a son at Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy. "If they can find money to put kids in jail, then they can find money to educate them to keep them out of jail."

Meeting participants developed the beginning of a long-term plan to improve the state of city schools without laying off workers.

They plan to target state and local leaders and demand, among other things:

Delivery of more than $250 million promised to the school system by the state in a school-reform package approved by the General Assembly last year.

Unionization of contract workers.

Hiring of additional, qualified teachers to reduce class sizes.

Modernization of school facilities.

"Democratization" of the appointed city school board to include more blue-collar workers as members.

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