Moises Beltre, an eleventh grader at the International School for Liberal Arts in the Bronx, was handed a homemade sign as he walked through the police blockades set up outside City Hall on Friday afternoon.
“What is it that we want?” the sign asked. A Metrocard was drawn at the bottom.
Beltre was among some 600 students, who walked out of classes around the five boroughs to rally outside City Hall, protesting the MTA’s proposal to cut free Metrocards for area students.
“I am here for the protest because we need the Metrocard to study, to go to school,” said Beltre, who’d ducked out of math class. “If they don’t give us a card, I think I’ll have to look for another school and where I live, the school is so bad.”
In May, the authority announced the possibility of phasing out the program to mitigate its $400 million budget shortfall. In its absence, students would have to pay between $40 and $90 dollars per month for the transportation fare.
Hilary Ring, the authority’s government affairs director, told a City Council budget hearing in May that officials needed $214 million dollars to keep the program running. Council members will need to decide by July 1 whether or not they can continue to fund the program, Mr. Ring said.
“The teacher-I forget his name-he said, ‘where are you going?’ I said ‘we’re walking out,'” said Jonathan Ruiz, a sophomore at Samuel Gompers High School in the Bronx, who was building a birdhouse when he and five friends walked out of their woodworking class. “If I don’t get these cards, I really won’t be able to go to school.”
City Council members, Transit Worker Union officials and members of the Urban Youth Collective addressed the screaming students from a stage.
City Councilman Robert Jackson came down from his 17th floor office across the street, where he said he could hear the screams from the street below.
As he waited to be introduced, a student leader shouted through a microphone that education needed to remain free.
“She just said education is free,” Jackson told The Observer just before his speech. “It’s not free. It doesn’t cost the students anything, but it’s not free.”
“I’m very, very proud of all of you,” he told the students after he’d climbed onto the stage. “I heard every time you yelled and screamed and I do hope Mayor Blooomberg, City Council members and the state legislature-I hope they heard you, too.”
Some of the students-taking advantage of the nice weather–marched over the Brooklyn Bridge to the MTA’s former headquarters in Brooklyn.
Mr. Beltre said he was headed back to the Bronx on a 4 train. He said he would make it in time for the last 40-minutes of class.