About 200 students, parents and teachers -- waving placards and shouting slogans of support for favorite instructors -- converged on the steps of the Capitol yesterday to protest sharp spending cuts in the D.C. public schools.
The protesters said the cuts would result in widespread classroom overcrowding, lowered morale, and the loss of extracurriculars such as music, foreign language and drivers education.
Many in the crowd came from local high schools where music and art programs began only a short time ago. Eastern High School's band was organized just last September after a seven-year hiatus, for example.
And some of the young people marching from Lafayette Park down Pennsylvania Avenue saw the potential loss of some of their hard-working teachers in very personal terms.
"At this point I have no problem being young and black, but I will have a problem being gifted if they take our teachers away," said Leonard Smith, 18, a senior at Dunbar High School and president of the Student Advisory Council, which cosponsored the event.
Eleanor Yancey, vice-superintendent of D.C. public schools, said in a telephone interview that the city's school system would require a budget of $279 million next year to operate at the same level as this year. The City Council and Congress have approved a budget of only $252 million. The gap has required administrators to deliver dismissal notices to 706 school employes so far, 600 of whom are teachers.
Mayor Marion Barry has requested the schools to trim their budget by another $8 million, which could result in firings of an additional 500 teachers, Yancy said. Though the superintendent's office was aware of yesterday's march, she added, it did not "in any way" endrose it.
The lunchtime crowd near the West Front steps of the Capitol heard protesters denounce the cuts as an act of congressional insensitivity.
Calvin W. Rolark, publisher of the Washington Informer newspaper and a cosponsor, declared, "What has Congress done? They've declared an economic death upon black and white youngsters who reside in the nation's capital."
After the rally, individual marchers met with congressional staffers and presented a plan to save jobs and programs by reducing the amount of debt service paid by the school system.
Many of the teachers, as well as their students, said it was their first visit to the offices of elected representatives.
"I don't know what I'm going to say if I see him," said Janice Archie, a dismissed physical education teacher from Southeast who wanted to see Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.) chairman of the House District Committee. "But whatever I say is going to come from the heart."