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Pennsylvania school workers protest layoff notices

By Julia Greenberg, CNN
updated 8:43 PM EDT, Wed May 23, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Service union leads marches in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • 2,500 nonteaching school workers have received layoff notices
  • Jobs are being outsourced to fight state budget problems

(CNN) -- Protesters marched in at least two major cities in Pennsylvania on Wednesday in response to proposed state budget cuts intended to close gaps in public school funding.

The protests were led by property service union 32BJ SEIU, which represents more than 3,000 Pennsylvania public school aides, bus drivers, attendants, cleaners and maintenance workers.

In Philadelphia, at least 2,500 workers have received layoff notices because of plans to outsource work to private companies in an effort to mend a budget gap. Negotiations continue, but layoffs are set to begin in June.

More than 2,000 demonstrators chanted, "Save our schools" on Wednesday as they marched through downtown Philadelphia, where 14 protesters were arrested for blocking traffic. Two-hundred protesters marched through Pittsburgh. Eleven protesters were arrested for blocking traffic there.

Ernie Bennett was one of those arrested in Philadelphia. He has worked as a building engineer for 26 years in the Philadelphia public school system.

"We will not stand still and allow them to dismantle our public education system, because these children are our children," Bennett told a cheering crowd. He said he has raised five children who have gone to Philadelphia public schools.

"It's about the students of Philadelphia, not about corporate America, not about Gov. (Tom) Corbett, not about the mayor, but about the citizens," Bennett said.

Helen Gym, a parent of Philadelphia public school students, accused Corbett, a Republican, of trying to dismantle public education by taking $1 billion out of the school budget.

"This is a time to fight back, this is a time to wake up, and this is a time to stand together," Gym said.

"Claims that the governor cut $1 billion from basic education are simply untrue," Corbett's press secretary, Kevin Harley, said in a statement. "The missing $1 billion was one-time-only federal stimulus funds that districts were warned against using for operating budgets. Gov. Corbett restored state money that had been cut from the basic education formula and added more."

Harley said 40.3% of the state's general budget is dedicated to education.

"Pennsylvania taxpayers now pay more toward basic education than at any time in the state's history," he said.

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