Planned budget-tightening moves in various states spark nationwide rallies
BOSTON: Plans to make deep cuts in state budgets saw rallies across the United States last Saturday and caused dismay in one state capital, where every teacher is to be given a termination notice.
In Providence, Rhode Island, there were no protests but widespread shock after the school board voted to send the notices to all of the city's 1,926 teachers.
Mayor Angel Taveras sought to calm the uproar by saying that an 'overwhelming majority' would not, in fact, lose their jobs, but would be rehired.
The city will have to close some of its 40 schools by September, he said, and only the teachers from the affected schools would lose their jobs.
Mr Taveras, a Democrat who took office last month, described the extraordinary step as a pre-emptive move to guarantee flexibility in addressing a budget deficit.
He said: 'Given that we don't know the schools yet that we're going to target, the most appropriate thing is to require notices to all the teachers.'
Teachers have accused Mr Taveras of trying to bypass seniority rules by sending termination notices instead of layoff warnings. With the warnings, teachers are usually asked back based on seniority.
Ms Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, described the school board's move as an unprecedented power play.
'What's going on here is some people have an idea about wanting to arbitrarily and capriciously choose who they want teaching in schools next year,' she said.
The Providence school system is facing a US$40 million (S$51.3 million) deficit in its US$315 million budget, but the mayor said the situation was not as dire as in Detroit, which plans to close up to 70 of its 140 school buildings and put as many as 60 students in each classroom.
Meanwhile, rallies across the US supported civil service employees in Wisconsin, who are protesting against Republican-backed legislation aimed at weakening unions.
Union supporters turned out from New York to Washington state in a show of solidarity, while in Wisconsin's capital, Madison, the protest entered its 12th straight day with the largest crowd yet: more than 70,000 people.
Republican Governor Scott Walker has introduced a Bill that involves stripping almost all public workers - from librarians to snow plough drivers - of their right to collectively bargain on benefits and work conditions. He has said the Bill would help close a projected US$3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-2013 budget.
Actor Bradley Whitford, star of TV series The West Wing and the movie Billy Madison, told his hometown crowd: 'This governor has to understand Wisconsin is a stubborn constituency. We fish through ice!'
Pilot Jeff Skiles, the first officer on the US Airways flight that landed successfully in New York's Hudson River in January 2009, told the protesters that 'justice and righteousness will always win out'.
Several thousand people also rallied in Columbus, Ohio, where lawmakers are considering a similar Bill.
ASSOCIATED PRESS, NEW YORK TIMES
[It is sad that the US has come to this.]