A galvanized school community launches a week of demonstrations | WYPR

A galvanized school community launches a week of demonstrations

Mar 6, 2017

Students and families rally in support of City Schools on March 4, 2017.

Some parents, teachers, students and administrators in Baltimore City Schools spent the week trying to convince state and local lawmakers to plug the schools’ $130 million dollar budget gap.

The search for money to “fix the gap” started in Annapolis on Monday where Mayor Catherine Pugh staged a press conference. “We have not heard yet what the governor's commitment is going to be,” she said, calling for the state to pitch in more funds.  “And he knows how important our school system is and how important our children are.”

Meanwhile, principals from across Baltimore demonstrated in front of City Hall, waving papers showing the differences in budgets between this year and next school year in protest. Budgets were due to school headquarters last week.

Chris Turk, principal of George Washington Elementary in Pigtown, said administrators wanted to send a message.

"This is a moral injustice," he said. "This deficit is unacceptable . . .  we are here to advocate to close the gap, to close the $130 million gap."

Chris Turk, principal of George Washington Elementary in Pigtown, with his school budget.

Without help from the state or city, Turk will have to slash at least two teaching positions from his small, 267-student school. Baltimore schools are facing cuts of 5 percent to 20 percent. 

Last Tuesday’s school board meeting was packed for the second week in a row and parents and teachers filled overflow rooms.

Ben Dalbey, a Hamilton Elementary Middle School parent, called on the board to order City Schools’ CEO Sonja Santelises to stop the budget process or restart it with “a level of funding our children deserve.”

At Saturday's rally, some students testified in support of teachers and programming at their schools.

"We are asking that you protect our school communities from the psychological trauma of these projected cuts," he said. "We are asking that you stop threatening teachers with layoffs and we are asking that you stop forcing principals to prepare and submit budgets that are devastating to our schools."

The crowd clapped as Dalbey outlined the growth in class sizes that will result from eliminating teachers as well as the loss of specialty instructors, clubs, and field trips.

"Our school is not a business," he said. "Children are not products. Teachers are not machines and district leaders cannot effectively advocate for the funding the schools need and deserve on the one hand while simultaneously instructing leaders at the school level to map a course to their own destruction on the other."

Later that evening Mount Royal Elementary, which stands to lose $871,621, held a pancake supper fundraiser at Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill. Rector Grey Maggiano said he usually uses the proceeds from the pre-Lent event to support programs around the city but he decided to direct all of this year’s money  -- $1,700 -- to the nearby school.

"That means there’s only 870,000 more to cover the deficit," he said wryly.

The rally held on March 4th.

He said there was a record crowd because people feel it’s important to support neighborhood schools.

“They want the school in the neighborhood to be successful even if they don’t have kids or their kids are long gone,” he said. “They want make sure the school continues to be a success and something the neighborhood can be proud of.”

Children ran in circles as he spoke, eating the last of the pancakes.

Thursday the youth-run Baltimore Algebra Project staged a rally at City Hall. On Friday students, teachers and City Council members at eight Baltimore schools walked en masse to mail postcards to Governor Larry Hogan and Mayor Pugh asking for money to close the gap.

And on Saturday several hundred families and CEO Santelises gathered at Rash field at the Inner Harbor, chanting “fix the gap.”

Students performed and families and politicians cheered, gave speeches and called for Mayor Pugh to fulfill campaign promises to increase the city’s contribution from 20 percent of the school budget to 35 percent over four years.

Trinity Jackson (right) with her younger sister at Saturday's rally.

"My mom brought me here for our schools and our community to get money for our schools and teachers and me," said Trinity Jackson, a 5th grader at Patterson Park Public Charter School. "They’re facing the teachers going because there’s not enough for teachers and supplies."

Video below courtesy of parent, Amelie Andrew Ward: