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Baltimore Community Activists Rally For Schools And Rec Centers

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Derek Valcourt began working at WJZ in September 2002. His first major...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Hundreds take to the streets of Harbor East to send a message to City Hall and business leaders. They say they’re tired of talking about fixing schools and rec centers, and it’s time for action.

Derek Valcourt explains they targeted one business developer in particular.

The group argues city tax breaks have meant millions to the companies that developed Harbor East, and they say it’s time to those companies helped out city schools.

Sunday night, hundreds of community activists marched through what they call The Money Trail, walking by four Inner Harbor East buildings which earn its owner, developer John Paterakis and his company, millions of dollars every year in city tax breaks.

“And imagine if we had that kind of money to take into our neighborhoods and our schools,” Sharon Wheaden-West, a teacher at Westside Elementary School, said. “Can you imagine what we can create for our children?”

Wheaden-West is one of hundreds joining the organization to build a coalition of church groups speaking out about dilapidated schools and run down rec centers. They say when it comes to education, too many leaders talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.

“It’s very aggravating, and we’ve waited too long, we sat around and watched our schools and our neighborhoods fall apart,” Wheaden-West said.

The marchers are demanding action, and fully support a plan by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to raise the bottle tax from two cents to five cents– the additional funds would go to school construction.

And the mayor has a message for those marching on behalf of rec centers.

“Come work with me,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake. “We don’t want to close one recreation center, but we need partners that are going to help us do this in a different way to make sure we get quality– not status quo but quality– recreational opportunities for our young people and families.”

The marchers are now asking for millions from developers like Paterakis and other corporations benefitting from city tax breaks.

“So now it’s the business community’s turn to step up and say, ‘Yes we are going to commit $10 million for 10 years,’ ” said Rev. Glenna Huber of the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church.

Some of those same marchers plan to take their message to City Hall on Monday night, asking the City Council to pass the mayor’s bottle tax increase.

It’s unclear how many Baltimore City council members would support the increased bottle tax.

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