Get Bloomberg out of our schools

By John Yanno

NEW YORK--A multiracial group of 200 parents, teachers, students and community members descended on "Tweed," the New York City Department of Education building, to demand an end to mayoral control of the city's public schools.

Signs and speakers denounced the situation in which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his handpicked schools chancellor Joel Klein have nearly dictatorial control over the running of New York City public schools. Protesters demanded this system be replaced by democratic community control.

Speakers attacked the mayor and chancellor for instituting a corporate model of high-stakes testing, watered-down curriculum in which teachers are forced to teach to the test, charter schools, and a loss of parents' voices in the running of our schools.

"We demand democracy in our schools," said Mark Torres of the People Power Coalition. "We don't want [Bloomberg and Klein's] Wall Street mentality in our schools. We want schools controlled by parents, teachers, and students."

Recent CUNY graduate and student union organizer Chiresse Paradise rallied the crowd, urging them to fight for education. "The fight continues for our education," Paradise said. "We must not be robbed of our right to learn."

Sam Coleman of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) decried the constant barrage of tests teachers are forced to give their students, telling the crowd that "test prep is not education."

The law giving Bloomberg control over city schools expired on June 30, and because of an internal dispute in the state Senate, a vote to extend the authority wasn't taken. While the reinstituted Board of Education ensured that the mayor's control of schools continued, the expiration of the law opened up opportunities to organize.

At one point during the rally, New York City Council member Charles Barron led the crowd up the steps leading to the entrance to Tweed, charging that since mayoral control had ended, the building now belongs to "the people." The crowd chanted "Whose building? Our building!" but stopped short of entering.

While Barron is a vocal opponent of mayoral control, many other city council members and politicians support the mayor, sometimes contradicting earlier statements to the contrary. That's why parents, students and teachers need to organize independently of these politicians and demand democratic community control of our schools.

As Paradise said at the conclusion of her moving speech, "The fight continues for our education. It's our job to fight!"