Will the UFT fight NYC school cuts?

John Yanno of the United Federation of Teachers reports on a battle shaping up over education cuts in New York.

NEW YORK--Schoolchildren are among the latest victims of the nation's spiraling economic crisis as the budget ax has come down on public schools.

In late January, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg notified school principals of cuts the night before they were to take effect. Teachers and students woke to find budgets reduced by 1.7 percent. These mid-year cuts, totaling $100 million, are part of a 4.3 percent cut in spending citywide. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein indicated that each of the city's 1,200-plus schools could expect to see an average budge reduction of $100,000.

But this is only round one in Bloomberg's attacks. The mayor has proposed an additional $324 million in school cuts for 2009. Adding to the budget crisis is the fact that the state is shortchanging schools $200 million in promised funds.

Defending the cut, Mayor Bloomberg said, "I'm sorry, you can always cut 1.3 percent. In fact, it's healthy to go and say let's cut a little bit and force the principals and the teachers and the administrators to say, 'Is this program worth it?'"

Healthy? Tell that to the more than 1 million city children who will lose tutoring, counseling, English as a Second Language instruction, and after-school recreational and sports programs.

Schools are searching for ways to find money in their budget. Teachers going on maternity leave are being replaced with lower-paid substitutes. Textbook orders go unfilled while dwindling supplies aren't replaced.

All the while, teachers are under increasing pressure to raise standardized test scores to meet the unrealistic demands of the No Child Left Behind law. The cuts the goals even harder to reach.

Concerned about already scarce resources in public schools, one parent, Eva Lewandowski, protested, "It's the cost of one or two teachers; it's the cost of a classroom; and we're fighting hard to keep the class sizes small."

The mayor's cuts are an embarrassment to United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten, who last year cancelled the union's participation in a rally--with the slogan of "put the public back into public education"--to protest Bloomberg and Klein's school reorganization.

Now, the UFT has initiated a "Keep the Promises" coalition that's called for a rally on March 19 to protest the cuts. The coalition is made up of education advocacy groups, community, parent and civil rights organizations, clergy, labor unions and elected officials.

While the rally is a positive step, what's also needed is the rebuilding of rank-and-file militancy in the UFT--to fight for full funding of education and to win back the gains that city teachers lost in past union contracts.