Just three days into the new school year, activists called for a Wednesday boycott of the Chicago Public Schools in a demonstration that coincides with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the school board's budget vote.
Protesters were already situated outside the district's downtown headquarters late Wednesday morning where school officials held their monthly 10:30 a.m. meeting to discuss the district's $5.58 billion budget critics say is rife with teacher and program cuts.
Organizers aligned the boycott with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington saying CPS' sweeping school closure plan last spring and ongoing teacher and budget reductions are discriminatory against the black and Latino children who comprise the majority of the district's students.
"What I would raise with the mayor is that, you can't be impassioned with people who you aren't willing to listen to," boycott organizer Jitu Brown, of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, told ABC Chicago. "We want change because our communities have been neglected for decades, but we want to be part of that change."
Analia Rodriguez, a parent organizer with ENLACE Chicago, called the school closings "a clear violation of human and civil rights" in a statement distributed by the boycott-organizing coalition.
CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel both harshly criticized the boycott. In a statement, Byrd-Bennett said taking children out of school to protest was "reprehensible" while Emanuel said, "I don't think that it's appropriate to advocate that the children stay out of school. You want to make a statement, go to the courtroom. Don't take it to the classroom. Children belong in school."
This spring CPS introduced a budgeting system tying school money to student enrollment, a move that has ultimately left principals with pinched budgets -- and fewer employees, from teachers to cafeteria workers.
The district's budget woes have been blamed on a lack of pension reform in Springfield, with a ballooning pension payment hamstringing CPS' efforts. The budget being voted on Wednesday has already been panned by a variety of watchdog, budget and tax accountability and disability rights groups, the Tribune reports.
The Chicago Teachers Union also took the proposed budget to task in a recent analysis, decrying it for its lack of transparency, aggressive charter school expansion and lack of input from community members.
CBS Chicago notes that if approved, property taxes for Chicago homeowners will rise an average of an $51 per year to assist CPS with its $1 billion dollar deficit.