"At a time when we need to do everything possible to prepare students for the 21st-century knowledge economy, it is unacceptable to lay teachers off and cram students in buildings that are too small and antiquated."
WASHINGTON—Visits today to Yonkers, N.Y., and North Bergen, N.J., schools demonstrate the urgent need to pass President Obama's American Jobs Act, said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Weingarten said that no one should have to learn or teach in such aging, seriously overcrowded and massively underfunded schools.
Weingarten toured Gorton High School and Martin Luther King, Jr. School in Yonkers, N.Y., and North Bergen High School in North Bergen, N.J., saying all three schools would benefit from the jobs bill, which could save more than 280,000 educator jobs, and repair and modernize 35,000 school buildings.
"Instead of stonewalling the jobs bill and just saying no, members of Congress need to see what I saw today. At a time when we need to do everything possible to prepare students for the 21st-century knowledge economy, it is unacceptable to lay teachers off and cram students in buildings that are too small and antiquated," Weingarten said. A vote to move the full bill forward failed in the U.S. Senate last week. The bill is now being divided into pieces. This week, a portion of the bill to fund jobs for teachers and first responders is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate.
The jobs bill could reverse the loss in Yonkers of 551 teachers and school staff since 2009, even as enrollment has climbed by more than 1,600, Weingarten said.
"I saw some of the most deplorable conditions I've seen in at least a decade," Weingarten said of Gorton High School, noting windowless, makeshift basement classrooms; a nonfunctioning auditorium; a leaky roof dripping into classrooms; and an antiquated HVAC system that makes proper air quality and temperature nearly impossible.
Martin Luther King, Jr. School is overcrowded, has no library, no real science labs and has seen massive cuts to programs and teacher positions. "If the jobs bill were passed, kids could once again have access to prekindergarten—which has hugely helped prepare kids in Yonkers in the past—and our schools could see the return of laid-off art, music and reading teachers," said Weingarten.
Joining Weingarten in Yonkers were Yonkers Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio and City Council President Chuck Lesnick. U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) also sent a representative, along with a statement of support for the AFT's efforts to pass the jobs bill.
At North Bergen High School, 2,900 students attend a 50-year-old building built for 1,800 students. If the school receives funding from the jobs bill, it could build an addition that would have 15 more classrooms and a state-of-the-art media center.
In North Bergen, Weingarten was joined by AFT New Jersey President Donna Chiera, U.S. Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.), state Sen. Nicholas Sacco and North Bergen Schools Superintendent Robert Dandorph.