Baltimore students protest cuts


BALTIMORE - Students at the Baltimore School for the Arts boycotted their classes May 13 to protest the layoff of teachers and other cutbacks forced by budget cuts in the city, state and nation.

Dozens of students, African American, Latino and white, rallied on the sidewalk across from their downtown school holding hand-lettered signs that proclaimed "Speak Out Against Budget Cuts" "Knowledge is Power" and "Our Education, Our Future." There was a steady chorus of passing motorists honking in support of the protest as the students cheered and waved their signs in greeting.

Toddrick Bowens, a senior music student who helped organize the protest, told the those assembled, "We came out here to take a stand. Hold your heads high. There are a lot more students inside who sympathize with us, who support what we are doing but are too scared to join us. See, they are all waving out the windows."

And in fact nearly every window in the eight-story former Alcazar Hotel was crowded with students smiling and waving to the demonstrators below. One tall youth walked across the street. "I'm sorry I have to go inside; good luck with your rally. I support what you're doing," he said.

The students reported on the intimidation experienced by those who planned on attending. Students were pulled aside individually and told by administrators that they were "greedy" and "spoiled" and claimed that speaking out against the cuts would only lead to more teachers being laid off. The administrators watched from school property with a beefed up police presence, taking notes on which students were participating, and, it's now believed, the students who were protesting were suspended for their actions. Despite that, the students said they aren't scared of retaliation from administrators and warned, "They'll be cutting your job next!"

Mike Gary's mother rolled down the window of her car and called her son over, handing him a pack of poster paper to paint signs on. "My mom supports me all the way," Gary said. "She's a parent liaison at another school where they were forced to fire several teachers because of the budget cuts. They just didn't have the money. It's bogus that they don't have money. This is a question of priorities. We are smart kids but if they keep cutting money for our public schools America is going to lose."

Matt Bolton, a senior in the visual arts, held a sign reading, "Money for Education not Occupation." He told this reporter, "I think the reason for all these cutbacks is misappropriation of funds. Afghanistan, Iraq; we're everywhere trying to fix other countries' problems when we have enough problems right here at home."

He said the protest is aimed at the cutbacks at the school. "But we don't want to make this only about our school. We are protesting what's happening to all the schools in the Baltimore school system. We have lost three teachers but many have lost 12 or 14 teachers." [Most, if not all, of those furloughed will be reassigned to other schools, not permanently laid off.]

The Baltimore Board of Education is struggling with deep budget cuts, even though the Democratic-majority Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Martin O'Malley restored tens of millions of dollars cut from education funding to offset a $1.6 billion state budget deficit.

The School for the Arts is considered a crown jewel of the Baltimore school system, with many graduates winning stardom on Broadway and in Hollywood. Tupac Shakur, once a member of the Young Communist League, attended the school. The Young Communist League branch in Baltimore is named the Tupac Shakur Club in his memory.

Ethan Maszczewski, a sophomore theater arts major, assailed the warped priorities. "The city is spending millions paving streets and building a giant ferris wheel to get ready for the Grand Prix," he said. "That money could cover the salaries of dozens of teachers, pay for text books, and other costs of keeping our schools going." The Baltimore Grand Prix is a racecar sporting event.

Alexandra Cruz-Wright, also a sophomore theater arts student, said was speaking out for the rights of teachers. "We have built a relationship with our teachers. Students not just here but across the country need to care about the bonds we have formed with our teachers and take a stand for preserving those bonds."

Bowens echoed that feeling. He expressed his regrets that among the teachers receiving a pink slip at school was the health-physical education teacher Donald N. Wheeler. "He's been so inspirational for many students here at the School for the Arts. He's taught me so many things about character, being a good person in general. His class is very necessary. I didn't think so at the beginning of the year but being in his class, he has taught me to be a better person."

While the city claims that these cuts are needed to balance the city's education budget, Andres Alonzo CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools is now planning on hiring 16 new administrators all to be paid six figure salaries. Also, the city is proposing enhancing Baltimore's inner harbor with things like a giant ferris wheel mimicking London's and a $2 million "Eiffel tower," which will take tourists to a 130-foot view of the city.

Presumably, these tourists will be able to see a panoramic view of the city, including the schools that are suffering from the cutbacks.  Tourists that will most likely not leave the surrounding inner harbor area or contribute to any economy but that of the high-end retail stores and restaurants surrounding the area and stadiums. 

TJordan Farrar is the chair of the Tupac Shakur Club in Baltimore and a former student of the Baltimore School for the Arts. Photo: Jordan Farrar/PW

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  • If you want to find out more about Tupac's activist life and murderous targeting by the FBI for it, see The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders book and 85 minute film, available on Amazon.

    Posted by John Potash, 07/08/2012 10:44pm (4 years ago)

  • I'am all for the children. When you have children that want to studie and make something out of themselfs, you want to hurt them in the worst way, by taking away their education programs. You say that you want them to stay in school but yet you put them out in to the street. Is this so you can have more arrest. Then you can say, I told you that they where not worth it. Stop doing this to our youth. Keep them in school. Prtice what you preach. (Do not cut there founds.)

    Oliver Boykin
    Stamford Ct.

    Posted by unknown should go some where and be quited. I known who you are directing your coments too. Be careful of what comes out of your mouth saids the Bible.

    Posted by Oliver Boykin, 05/14/2011 9:49am (5 years ago)

  • maybe the tupac estate could contribute to the school rather than require tax payer dollars? where are all the successful alumni from this school and their contributions?

    Posted by tim, 05/14/2011 8:30am (5 years ago)

  • Wow you know it's sad that I can tell exactly who that is even though they didn't want to show there name. Your speaking on something that you believe in right now..and your still afraid to show your name. One thing to get straight is that there we are not only protesting for just Ms. Parr so you can stop trying to make that your argument. We are not only fighting for our teachers at BSA this is a way broader canvas then that. BSA and and it's administration just brought the event to us and explained what exactly was going on, I thank them for that. Why? because they made me think about what exactly is going on, so it seems to me you haven't grasped exactly that yet. You keep attacking exactly what your hearing from students INSIDE the building....which makes no since at all because the real protesters are outside. And I don't think I saw you asking any of us exactly what we were standing for, no you listened to what the administration told you as well as came up with your own stories..THAT my friend is Biased!!! I'm laughing that the fact that you had to put GPA into this to make a point. Me personally I don't have a good GPA and that is supposed to stop me from being proactive in my beliefs? Not all but yo continue to do what your doing your just giving us the fuel that we need. .:: Pay No Attention to Negativity::.

    Posted by Alexander .B. Smothers, 05/14/2011 2:06am (5 years ago)

  • Most of these students have the lowest GPA's in the school. They haven't taken advantage of their "good teachers" before the cuts. Why start now. THis is a testimony to the age old phrase, " you never miss somethign until its gone." Despite the harsh reality of the cuts, these students should be in school takign advantage of their education and not distracting those that are inside attempting to make the best of our system's shortfalls. Also, this was not a strong representation of the BSA student body or the administration. Most of the students protesting( with the exception of about 8) are visual art majors who are angered at the sacking of their beloved teacher Ms.Parr. Biased? I think so.

    Posted by unknown, 05/13/2011 8:14pm (5 years ago)

  • Update: The protesters got the attention of 4 city councilmen and have been invited to speak in front of the city council! Congrats guys!

    Posted by Jordan, 05/13/2011 7:02pm (5 years ago)

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