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News :: Education : Labor : Race
Springfield teachers fight back against control board
08 Mar 2005
In the midst of a Northeastern snow storm which eventually dumped over seven inches of snow on the area that day, over 800 teachers and their allies packed the Central High School auditorium March 1 for a public speak-out to tell the city's Finance Control Board: Hands off teachers and all city workers! The public forum, part of an ongoing campaign by the Springfield Teachers Association, exposed the control board's attempts to move money out of the already-strapped school budget to pay for other city expenses; its unilateral cuts in benefits that will cost city employees, including educators, thousands of dollars; and threatening even further cuts to the wages and benefits of teachers and other city employees.
springfield1.jpg
Springfield teachers fight back against control board
By Bryan G. Pfeifer

SPRINGFIELD -- In the midst of a Northeastern snow storm which eventually dumped over seven inches of snow on the area that day, over 800 teachers and their allies packed the Central High School auditorium March 1 for a public speak-out to tell the city's Finance Control Board: Hands off teachers and all city workers!

The public forum, part of an ongoing campaign by the Springfield Teachers Association, exposed the control board's attempts to move money out of the already-strapped school budget to pay for other city expenses; its unilateral cuts in benefits that will cost city employees, including educators, thousands of dollars; and threatening even further cuts to the wages and benefits of teachers and other city employees.

The SEA, an affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) and the National Education Association (NEA), represents 2,500 teachers and 3,000 retirees.

The 'out of control' board

The mission of the five-member Control Board is to make Springfield "solvent." The board has full control of the municipal budget and spending, and its decision-making powers supersede the Mayor and the City Council, thereby legally side-stepping elected city officials. But the board members' salaries, as well as those of an executive and assistant director, are paid by the city.

The Massachusetts legislature created the board in early July 2004 through a bill signed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney. The justification was Spring field's deficit of $23 million in its 2004 annual budget of $442.3 million. (www.mass.gov)

The composition of the board shows the determination of powerful financial and political interests to protect their investments in the city.

Although SEA president Tim Collins sent a letter on behalf of the union inviting Control Board members state Revenue Commissioner Alan LeBovidge and a former Vice Chairman of Pricewater house Coopers; Jake Jacobson, a Harvard and MIT graduate billed as a "turn around specialist;" and Tom Trimarco, former chair of the state's retirement fund and a former advisor at the U.S. Department of Transportation and Executive Director Philip Puccia none showed.

Thus the SEA placed effigies with name tags of the no-show board members on stage and a banner declaring, "Control Board is the Death of our City." Mayor Charlie Ryan and City Council President Tim Rooke, members of the Control Board by virtue of their office, did attend. In an attempt to circumvent the March 1 public speakout, the control board scheduled a March 7 speak out at City Hall during morning school hours.

"If there is one group of people in the city of Springfield that is not responsible for this financial crises it's the children in our public schools, and the governor's `out of control board' seems intent on balancing the city's budget at their expense, " said Collins at the speak-out addressing the teachers wearing green "Helping teacher's teach," T-shirts and adorning "Save Springfield's School's," buttons.

Teachers fighting back

Dozens of teachers addressed their fellow sisters and brothers, many describing the tall odds they face to educate Springfield's children, a majority of which are African American and Latino/a. In the face of increasing budget cuts, many described the extra non-paid hours they work and supplies they purchase so students are able to receive an adequate education.

A Springfield elementary teacher since 1978, Sally Suomala, said:

"Springfield schools were very highly rated. My kids had opportunities that kids don’t have now, like elementary gifted and talented programs. Art and music programs are now down to the bare bones. In Springfield, kids today just don’t have a full, well-rounded program."

According to a recent SEA survey distributed at the speak-out, 80 percent of teachers are contemplating leaving the Springfield school district and 40 percent have sent resumes to other districts. Recent Massachusetts state budgets have cut more in per pupil spending than any other state in the country. These cuts have had their greatest impact on urban school districts. In Springfield this has led to the loss of 300 teaching positions and 200 teacher aid positions (www.seateachers.com).

The board's freezing of wages and threats to cut benefits, have made Springfield teachers the lowest paid teachers in Hampden County. Due to wage freezes, Springfield schools have lost over 160 licensed, highly qualified teachers to surrounding communities where they are earning anywhere from $3,00 to $12,000 more.

Union members and allies at the speak-out also emphasized that the city's situation is a crisis manufactured at the state level because the city historically has received less state funding than more affluent and majority-white cities, and thus is at a constant disadvantage in meeting its budget needs.

Suomala, like her fellow workers, stress that a fight back approach is correct but unity and solidarity is neccessary.

"We have to instill a spirit of hope," she said. "We have to believe that if we stick together we can get through this and restore our school system to what it used to be."

The anti-war and labor movements

Catherine Donaghy of the Western Mass International Action Center, said workers and students alike eagerly scooped up hundreds of March 19 "Troops Out Now" leaflets connecting the anti-war and labor movement. In cities across the U.S. including Springfield, the U.S. war on Iraq, and the increasing Pentagon budget have led to draconian cuts in social programs and public services.

"The forum was full of energy, and the teachers are determined, focused and angry about the control board's actions to attack them and all workers in Springfield, union and non-union, and their communities as well as making the children suffer. Many of the teachers expressed solidarity with the March 19 actions," said Donaghy.

-- 30 --

Bryan G. Pfeifer is a graduate student in the Labor Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
See also:
http://www.seateachers.com
http://www.troopsoutnow.org

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Springfield teachers fight back against control board
09 Mar 2005
thank you God bless all
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06 Jun 2006
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06 Jun 2006
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06 Jun 2006
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06 Jun 2006
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