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Weingarten, civic leaders join fight for fairness in budget cuts

“We must even in tough times invest in our city, invest in our most vulnerable, invest in our children,” UFT President Randi Weingarten said at the inaugural press conference held today on the steps of City Hall by a coalition formed this week to advocate for the “neediest New Yorkers” during the economic downturn.

Weingarten described the devastating effects of the 1970s budget crisis on the city’s schools, when teachers were laid off and class sizes swelled. “It took decades to turn [the schools] around, a turnaround we’re only starting to make” now, she said. “If I sound passionate it’s because those of us who are history teachers know what the history was.”

Other members of the “One New York: Fighting For Fairness” coalition today described the mid-1970s as a time when the city forced its poor to shoulder the burden of financial crisis, a situation the coalition is trying to guard against as the city enters another era of economic austerity. Billy Easton, who heads the Alliance for Quality Education, told me the coalition originated at an emergency meeting held on Monday in response to the mayor’s instruction that city agencies make across-the-board budget cuts of 2.5 percent. The coalition — which includes more than 80 community organizations, unions, and policy groups — is growing “almost hourly,” he said.

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