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Vol. 74/No. 34      September 6, 2010

(front page)
Chicago socialist candidate
opposes cuts in school funds
Militant/Ilona Gersh
Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois, speaks at microphone against cuts in city school budget at August 19 meeting on Chicago’s South Side.

CHICAGO—Working people throughout Chicago need to oppose layoffs and cutbacks in public education, said Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate, at a hearing on the city school budget August 19 at Corliss High School on Chicago’s South Side.

More than 100 people were present to address a budget that includes cutting some 2,000 teachers and other school workers jobs. About 1,200 already received layoff notices earlier this month.

Chicago Teachers Union members rejected the school board’s demand they give up a 4 percent pay raise because there is “no guarantee that layoffs or class size increases would stop,” said union president Karen Lewis.

“The Democratic and Republican party politicians try to convince us that there is a limited pool of money in the city and state budgets, and if this runs out, everyone has to be cut back,” testified Kennedy. She explained that all the city’s revenue comes from wealth created by working people, but the politicians’ priority is to pay interest to wealthy bondholders, not to provide for what working people need.

Her comments received applause from many in attendance, mostly teachers, students, and parents.

“Workers should not have pay for the crisis through layoffs, increased work loads, speedup, worsening of safety conditions, and cutbacks in social services,” said the socialist candidate.

Teachers speaking at the hearing described the deteriorating conditions in schools. “After the first layoff I went to volunteer at Langston Hughes Elementary School until they finally decided to hire me last December,” said Ursula Whitfield, a special education assistant. “Then in June I was laid off again. Who is going to work with the special needs children I was responsible for? Nobody.”

“As a teacher I can only request a maximum of 25 sheets of construction paper, but my class size is 31,” said Mary Ellen Sanchez, an elementary school teacher. “Some classrooms have more students than desks. And to use the lavatories the students have to request individual sheets of toilet paper,” she said.

A few speakers posed funding for more charter schools as a solution. But Terry Wilford, who has taught in both public and charter schools said, “The truth is that education is unequal in Chicago. They’re not interested in educating our children. For real education they should open up the schools to the community, the parents, both to understand their children’s curriculum, but also to learn themselves.

“The economy is getting worse, working people are working harder, but we’re not getting $50,000 raises like some of the school administrators, we’re getting laid off,” Wilford said.

The austerity measures in Chicago schools are mirrored throughout Illinois. In March, Governor Patrick Quinn cut $1 billion in funding to public school districts, threatening 17,000 teachers with layoff. The excuse for the education cuts, as well as public hospital closings, furlough days, and layoffs of other state government workers, was a $13 billion deficit in the 2011 state budget.

On August 10, the Education and Medicaid Act went into effect giving $10 billion of federal funds to states to mitigate education cuts. The Chicago public schools are expected to receive $100 million for the $6.4 billion budget.

“We in the Chicago Teachers Union lobbied hard for the passage of that bill,” said Xian Barrett, a four-year teacher at Julian High School. “On Wednesday the money came through, then on Thursday I got laid off.”

“We have to stop relying on the twin capitalist parties to solve our problems. These parties always put the interests of the bankers, real estate developers, and industrialists first,” Kennedy said.

“We need a labor party, a party based on a fighting union movement, that puts workers’ interests first. This perspective is part of a course of the working class toward taking political power from the capitalists who exploit us.”
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