It’s Official: Gov. Corbett Hurt Philly Schools for No Good Reason

He delayed a $45 million payment and got work rules changed. Was it worth it?

tom corbett governorThe good news is: Gov. Tom Corbett finally released $45 million the state owed to Philly public schools. The bad news? Lots of damage has been done to Philadelphia schools that could’ve been avoided if he’d just released the money six weeks ago. Morale is horrible. It’s possible a child died because she lacked access to school nurses. Teachers have been stranded with little in the way of assistance.

And why? Well, we don’t know why at this point. Corbett said he would release the money only if the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers made big concessions regarding pay and pensions. They never budged. Given what was at stake, it was clear weeks ago that they wouldn’t. And yet Corbett held onto the money anyway. Until he didn’t. Nothing changed except his decision-making process. (Update: Well, one thing changed.)

In that sense, our Republican governor is in lockstep with his allies in Washington D.C., the House Republicans. They shut down the government and dragged us to the edge of default, it seems, because they couldn’t accept being on the losing side of an issue—in that case, health care—and so basically settled on the following strategy for victory:


If Gov. Corbett had bothered to explain himself this morning, maybe it would be easier to take. If he'd said, "I still believe that the PFT should make concessions, and that those givebacks will ultimately be needed for the Philly school district to secure itself financially," he might've given his failed crusade some seeming purpose. Instead, he briefly explained that he was satisfied with the district's progress on reforms, and slunk away quietly.

Which leaves us to conclude that Gov. Corbett didn't really know what he was getting into with this fight. He damaged the Philly school district and undermined both the education and well-being of local students ... just because. At best he's acted fecklessly. At worst, with deliberate disregard to the public good. Either way, he's proven one thing: He deserves his really crappy poll numbers. There's not much evidence he deserves to remain governor.

[UPDATE 12:49 PM] Well, it looks like Corbett got something after all. Axis Philly reports: "With little fanfare, Superintendent William Hite imposed new work rules on district teachers today, ending the practice of filling vacancies through seniority."

So maybe he's not as feckless as he first appeared. Still, ask yourself: Will the change in work rules create benefits so large that they undo the harms that were created by Corbett's initial withholding of the cash? It's hard to see how.

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  • Helen Gym

    Joel: Axis Philly didn’t report anything. Tom Ferrick delivered a perfectly timed spin on a desperate attempt to turn around a massive moral failure. Hite did not exercise or impose anything that hadn’t already been decided weeks ago. In the meantime, Corbett had clearly linked the $45M to union concessions that were not forthcoming. Nothing has changed in the past few weeks. Corbett folded under the weight of 100s of formal complaints around serious violations of the state code and the horrifying death of a 12 year old child.

    • Maureen Fratantoni

      Agreed, Helen!

  • Ronald E. Whitehorne

    Joel Great piece until the update. Hite got the authority to reshape how assignments and recalls are done in August when the SRC struck down the seniority provisions in the school code, a power they claim under ACT 46. In his press conference today Hite made clear that they are not imposing a contract at this venture and, further, that seniority will continue to be used with some modifications. The union has accepted none of this. Ferrick is wrong and has egg on his face.

    • Helen Gym

      It’s not about egg on Ferrick’s face because he made a misread. It’s about Ferrick purposefully and strategically timing a story to spin something that is questionable at best in the last ditch attempt to spin partisan PR. Ferrick and a troubling band of players have exploited the funding crisis while children and families suffer to drive through nationally homogenized, standardized union concessions. Ferrick and Co. actively promoted the withholding of this money. And in the end, they weren’t even principled about it. Thanks for the Public Interest Journalism lesson AxisPhilly!

  • robbiecee

    Is he Chris Christie’s brother! Maybe the DOJ should look into this one too!