City Council Talks Program Funding, Union Strikes

A familiar face reappeared in Sullivan Chamber Monday night as Evette Layne, director of the Upward Bound program at MIT, returned to a second consecutive Cambridge City Council meeting to urge the Council to save the MIT-Wellesley program for high school students.

Upward Bound offers high school students a rigorous academic program in a college setting. It was the subject of hot debate at the Council’s last meeting two weeks ago, when students, teachers, and alumni crowded City Hall to offer testimonies in defense of the program.

“The Upward Bound program has not received funding from the federal Department of Education since January 2012,” Layne said, noting that, of the approximately $600,000 needed to sustain the program annually, over $400,000 had once been provided by now-defunct federal grants. The rest, Layne said, has been provided by MIT and Wellesley, who have attempted to sustain the program recently by reducing staff and services.

Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, a vocal supporter of the program, urged the Council to discuss ways it could fund Upward Bound at that meeting. She worried that other courses of action considered by the Council, like deferring the matter to a committee for discussion, would not be able to provide a timely enough response. “They were running on gas, and now just about are running on fumes,” Simmons said.

In response to the councillors’ concerns, Mayor Henrietta J. Davis said that, in addition to referring the item to the Government Operations Committee, she would personally visit the superintendent of Cambridge Public Schools on Tuesday to discuss possible funding sources.

“I’m going to hold you to that,” Simmons said.

“You can hold me to that,” Davis responded.

Also in attendance Monday night were members of Service Employees International Union Local 615, a union representing janitors, security officers, and maintenance staff throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Members of the union recently declared themselves ready to strike within the next week if demands on a master contract governing employees of many local companies are not met. Harvard members of SEIU are not affected by the contract at issue and would not strike.

“What we are hearing, it’s unconscionable,” said Councillor Marjorie C. Decker after the union employees spoke. She described the union-suppressing efforts by cleaning companies, many of whom are contracted by major biotechnology firms in Cambridge.

Decker urged firms that would be affected by the strike to review their contracts with cleaning companies to ensure their employees are being treated fairly.

“People don’t think of this happening in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” she said.

—Staff writer Amanda E. McGowan can be reached at amanda.mcgowan@college.harvard.edu.

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