‘They’re Treating Us Like We Don’t Matter, Like We’re Nothing’

Allison Kilkenny

Demonstrators carry signs as they march to Oakland City Hall during a national day of action against school funding cuts and tuition increases March 4, 2010 in Oakland, Calif.

On ne revendiquera rien, on ne demandera rien. On prendra, on occupera. (We will beg for nothing. We will ask for nothing. We will take, we will occupy.) - French graffitti, 1968

Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to unveil his budget proposal for next year sometime today, and his administration has promised the plan will close a $2 billion budget gap without raising taxes. Of course, the only way to achieve that is through massive cuts i.e. firing government employees, public teachers, and closing schools.

Since 2007, the administration has made 11 rounds of cuts producing $5 billion in savings, though the cost-saving measures came at the expense of 18,000 city employees, who lost their jobs under Bloomberg’s reign.

In anticipation of Bloomberg’s budget announcement, advocacy groups such as the Strong Economy for All Coalition, United New York, Vocal NY, Community Voices Heard, New York Communities for Change, in addition to a dozen NYC Council Members released a statement stating, For too many years the New York City budget has been unfair and unequal.”

Appropriating the language of Occupy Wall Street, the coalition adds, For middle-class, working and low-income New Yorkers – the 99 percent – we’ve seen destructive cuts to essential services and the safety net. For the top 1 percent and for favored big businesses, we’ve seen continued special treatment, special deals and special subsidies.”

Hundreds of students from Legacy High School left class early Wednesday to protest the Department of Education’s plan to close their schools. The students marched to Union Square where they rallied with other youth whose schools are also on the department’s list of potential closures. (photo by @OccupyWallStNYC)

While gathered at the square, the students unrolled a list of all the proposed school closures (photo by @ourschoolsnyc).

The citywide Panel for Education Policy is scheduled to vote next week on whether to close 25 schools. It has never overruled the DOE, so some students say they feel they’re fighting an uphill battle:

They’re treating us like we don’t matter, like we’re nothing, and I’m sorry, but we are something. I am something,” said one student.

The purpose, I believe of this, is basically to spread a word or to tell the rest of the youth and let them know listen, the youth should stand up for our education, what we think is right,” said another.

The Bloomberg administration shields itself from this kind of populist backlash by pointing to the listed schools’ poor reading and math test results, but the students say they’re lagging behind due to a lack of resources.

NY 1:

Mayor Bloomberg expects us to succeed when we don’t have the correct resources to move on and to have progress,” said one student.

Nobody understands unless they’re sitting in the classroom with us,” said another.

Other students say they see their fight as an unexpected lesson in perseverance.

Whatever the decision is, we’re still going and fighting. We won’t end, we won’t stop,” said one student.

What Mitt Romney failed to understand when he made his now infamous I’m not concerned about the very poor” comment is that the very poor help to make up the very heart of America” he also referenced later in the same faux pas-filled remark. Quite simply: the very poor are part of the 99 percent.

Perhaps if Romney visited the state of New York with its slowing economy, growing long-term unemployed ranks, and low-wage jobs (PDF), he would magically understand the importance of the social safety net.

According to a report by the New York State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, in addition to the government sector having lost 29,300 jobs over the past two years, New York’s per capita personal debt rose to $49,700 in the third quarter of 2011, reversing a declining trend since 2008. Personal debt as a share of income peaked at 110 percent in 2009, and has remained high, at 100 percent, in 2011.

Then there’s the abysmal state of New York’s educational system. In the aforementioned statement, the coalition breaks down Bloomberg’s failings according to each tier of the schooling process. 

Higher Education - PSC-CUNY

Over 92,000 students now attend CUNY’s six community colleges. Currently 48% of CUNY community college students come from households earning less than $20,000 per year.

Three years of underfunding have led to bigger classes, fewer full-time faculty with time to mentor individual students, and longer waits for library, counseling, computer labs and other services that students’ need to succeed.

Last year Mayor Bloomberg proposed another round of severe cuts, but luckily the City Council restored $20.9 million, leaving the city’s community college contribution flat at $257.3 million.

Meanwhile tuition and fees went up three times between fall 2010 and fall 2011 to $3,80022% more than the $2,963 average community college tuition nationally. When tuition goes up, more students fill the gaps in financial aid with paid work, unfortunately reducing the time they have for study.

In November, hundreds of CUNY students protested a round of these tuition hikes that would have raised the fee for school by $300 annually in each of the next five years for all undergrads.

Education K-12- CEJ/AQE

Mayor Bloomberg’s budget must address the continued educational inequities that deprive our children of an education that prepares them for college and careers.

As a result of devastating budget cuts over the past few years, our children in grades K- 12 have lost after-school programs, art and music classes, essential tutoring services for struggling students, social workers and guidance counselors, books and technology, and so much more.

If that wasn’t enough, we lost 2,600 teachers and over 700 school aides, parent coordinators and other vital workers, and the supports they provide for our children.

Our schools are hurting, class size is larger than ever, children are sharing textbooks, and summer and afterschool programs are much reduced.

Our schools can’t afford more cuts, when only 25% of all NYC students, and only 13% of Black and Latino students, are graduating ready for college.

We need the restoration of these funds and these services and a change in the direction of school reform that relies on successful research-based reforms to dramatically improve the college-readiness of our students.

The experts are predicting a far rosier” budget from Bloomberg this time around, although it’ll be an easy feat to out-sunshine last year’s doomsday prediction by Bloomberg that he would need to give thousands of teachers the axe or the city would explode in flames.

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Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.
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