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Before City Council's budget hearing, a rally against layoff plans

Under a blazing sun, protesters rallied on the steps of City Hall today before the City Council’s education budget hearing against the Department of Education’s plans to lay off more than 4,000 teachers.

Speakers at the rally included elected officials, union leaders, parents, community advocates, and even a star of the sitcom “Third Rock From the Sun.” Dozens more — including at least 15 City Council members, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer — stood behind to cheer their support. Robert Jackson, chair of the council’s education committee, led the rally.

“Protect our children, not millionaires,” the protesters chanted in between speakers.

They focused their criticism on what they said were misplaced priorities by the Bloomberg administration. The city’s rich, they said, should shoulder more of the burden in the form of higher taxes and fewer pricey consulting contracts.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said increasing class sizes would directly hurt the education quality received by New York’s public school students. In the wake of budget deficits, he said, the DOE’s budget “shouldn’t be about the kids becoming part of the shared sacrifice.”

The city’s budget deficit should affect “not just the little folks, not just the poor folks, not just the children,” pleaded Ernest Logan, president of the principals union.

Mayor Bloomberg shouldered most of the criticism from the protesters. One sign portrayed Bloomberg on a milk carton as “Missing: The Education Mayor.” Another read: “Remove snow, not teachers,” referring to the city’s troubled clean-up from a series of snowstorms in December.

But it was Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott who would be grilled by council members at the budget hearing, which began shortly after 10:00 a.m.

Parent Sarah Porter, of P.S. 132 in Brooklyn, spoke while holding her young son. She demanded that Mayor Bloomberg lobby the state to reinstate the millionaire’s tax as a way to find revenue for the education budget. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Millionaires can tighten their belts as well,” she said.

Also speaking out against the city’s plans to cut teachers was Kristen Johnson, best known for her role as an alien on “Third Rock From the Sun,” making what she said was her first public advocacy appearance.

“I just think it’s sick,” said Johnson, who is part of Sobriety Learning and Motivation, an organization that is trying to build a high school for students recovering from substance abuse. “Shouldn’t kids be our first priority?” she said.

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