Rallies in Springfield and Pittsfield reflect deep commitment to public education

Rallies in Springfield and Pittsfield reflect deep commitment to public education

Marguerite Foster Franklin at Springfield Fund Our Future rally
Springfield Education Association member Marguerite Foster Franklin let out a cheer during the rally on the steps of City Hall.

Hundreds of public education supporters attended Fund Our Future events in Western Massachusetts on May 16 that were planned to run concurrently with a rally and day of action on Beacon Hill.

Educators, students, parents and community allies — on the steps of City Hall in Springfield and in downtown Pittsfield — reflected a deep commitment to public schools and colleges and a firm resolve to finally end many years of austerity budgets.

Danielle Seltzer, a special education teacher in Amherst, said it “didn’t take much convincing” to get her to put the Springfield rally on her must-do list.

As a teacher, she said, “you experience the lived reality of public education every day.”

“Our HVAC system doesn’t work,” she said. “Our septic system leaks. Our classes are overcrowded every day.”

In her district, Seltzer said, budget cuts are being made every year. She told the crowd: “What our district has to ask itself is, ‘What meaningful resources are we not giving to our children?’

An attentive audience of public education advocates listened as Northampton education support professional Paula Rigano-Murray spoke during the Springfield rally.

“This isn’t about small budget increases,” she continued. “This is about long-term systemic change for all public schools in our state. This fight is not over until every single child in Massachusetts has the funding they need for a quality public education.”

Erin Burns, a teacher at the High school of Science and Technology in Springfield, also attended the Springfield rally.

As an educator, Burns is tired of seeing her students feel the pain that comes from a lack of state funding. She said she felt it was imperative for educators and education allies “to show their collective power — and to demand that we get the funding that we need, that we deserve.”

The state’s foundation budget formula “hasn’t been updated since 1993, which is one year after I was born,” she added.

Roberta Frederick, an English as a second language teacher in Springfield, said that additional funding through the Promise Act would mean a great deal to her students and their families. For one thing, full funding would put “more teachers and paraprofessionals in the classroom,” she said, especially for students struggling to learn English.

Fund Our Future rally in Pittsfield
Berkshire County educators and public education activists marched along North Street in Pittsfield to demonstrate their support for the Promise Act and the Cherish Act.

In Pittsfield, a coalition of teachers, education support professionals, students and parents — dressed in red Fund Our Future T-shirts — gathered on Park Square.

The crowd waved and held signs promoting the Promise Act and the Cherish Act, which would provide substantially more state funding for public higher education. Drivers in passing vehicles responded enthusiastically with a chorus of supportive horn honks.

A rally followed, emceed by Pittsfield Educational Administrators Association member and local education leader Brendan Sheran, who introduced a variety of speakers.

Educators call for end to austerity budgets

Students lead the march around the State House on May 16

Thousands rallied for passage of legislation to increase state funding for public schools and colleges.

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All of them spoke to the urgency of properly funding education, from prekindergarten through college.

The first speakers were Olivia Nda and Makailey Cookis, who graduated from Pittsfield High School last June. Now college freshmen, Nda and Cookis spoke about the needs they experienced in their schools as they were growing up, and they explained how the $11 million per year owed to Pittsfield could expand opportunities: in the arts, in school safety, and in science, technology, engineering and math classes.

Sheila Irvin, a retired kindergarten teacher from Pittsfield, drove home the point that the number of societal changes since the foundation budget was introduced have changed the very nature of public education.

Back in Springfield, Laura Demakis, president of the Chicopee Education Association, told the crowd that “the funding situation is dire for our schools, our teachers, our students and our communities — but it is not irreparable.”

“The state promised our students the right to an education,” she said, and now it needs to fulfill that promise.

Maureen Colgan-Posner, president of the Springfield Education Association, exhorted the crowd to act.

“We will not take no for an answer — and we will not wait! Our children can’t wait,” she said. “This is the social justice issue of our time.

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