Students make sure their voices are heard

March 10, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

YOU HAD TO figure students at City College wouldn't take it lying down.

Hundreds of students took part in the demonstrations outside City Hall and the State Department of Education offices on Baltimore Street yesterday, but the organizers met at City College last week to plan yesterday's events. That shouldn't be surprising, given the school's history.

As a City College sophomore - that would be the school year 1966-1967, for those of you who are wondering - I heard that, on a national news broadcast, one of the faculty members sang "City Forever" as he entered a police wagon after being arrested during a teachers' strike.

No doubt inspired by his example - well, we weren't discouraged by it - in January 1969, a number of City College students bolted the building and proclaimed what we believed to be the first unofficial holiday in observance of the Rev. Martin Luther King's birthday.

We had nowhere near the numbers of the students who assembled yesterday, who presented a formidable sight as they marched from City Hall, up Fayette Street, hung a left on Cathedral Street and then a right on Baltimore Street to the front of the education building. They had come to make themselves heard in the midst of a budget mess that has seen a $58 million deficit, a cash-flow problem of an equal amount and city leaders who first said they would fix the problem then went begging to the state for help and waffling yet again before deciding to fix the problem themselves Monday night.

Some of the students carried signs that read "We Deserve $260 Million A Year" and "Full State Funding: No Loans." You had to wonder if they'd heard the news that the $42 million the City Council approved Monday night is a loan. But some students were there so that folks on the City Council - and other government offices - could hear their voices for a change.

"I was really frustrated over the lack of media coverage about students' opinions," said Alena Davidoff-Gore, a 15-year-old City College sophomore. Davidoff-Gore said she has sent letters to the editor that haven't been printed and letters to Mayor Martin O'Malley and other government officials that have gone unanswered.

Her goal, she said, was to let them know how the budget crisis affects students.

Samuel Ball-Brau is also a City College sophomore. He showed he has a future in local and state politics: He blamed the problems on the nearest Republican, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"Ehrlich lost 8,000 of Baltimore City's votes," Ball-Brau said, referring to the membership of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which has been upset with the governor's suggestion that future payroll reductions were likely needed to help balance the school system's budget. Already this school year, there have been employee layoffs, and more have been threatened.

"There's no incentive for a statewide politician to listen to Baltimore," Ball-Brau said.

When asked if local Baltimore politicians bore no brunt of the blame, Ball-Brau singled out O'Malley.

"O'Malley's going to challenge Ehrlich for governor," Ball-Brau said. "He's still looking at the test scores."

Standardized test scores for some grade levels have been improving in Baltimore and in the most recent primary election campaign, O'Malley appeared to take some credit for the academic good news.

Ball-Brau used a metaphor to describe what he thinks of the $42 million "loan" the city just gave to the school system while in essence flipping the state the bird.

"Has your mom ever asked you if you want one cookie now or two cookies later?" Ball-Brau asked. "O'Malley took that cookie and left no cookies for the rest of us."

Brian Bieretz is a 16-year-old sophomore at Polytechnic Institute (I don't know how he slipped into the group with Davidoff-Gore and Ball-Brau) who sees way too much politics involved in the school budget crisis.

"It's political posturing," Bieretz said. "O'Malley's going to run for governor. Ehrlich's trying to make O'Malley look bad. Students are suffering because a couple of guys are trying to make themselves look good. A thing like education should be above partisan politics."

Yes, it should be, but in this town that might not be the case. More than a few Baltimoreans are no doubt wondering if the City Council - where nary a Republican has lurked for years - took Monday night's action to avoid the appearance of a Republican governor having to solve Baltimore's school budget crisis. While they try to sort out the mess, students see cuts forcing favorite teachers and guidance counselors out the door.

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