SRC’s Contract Move Isn’t About Shared Sacrifice — It’s Looting

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From left: Bill Green (Jeff Meade, via Wikimedia Commons) | School District headquarters (Jeff Fusco) | Helen Gym (Alex Hogan, Flickr)

Recently, I visited my brother-in-law at Radnor High School and was privileged to see him teach his ninth-grade English/civics class. When I walked in, his students were engaged in a debate about Plato and the notion of dissent versus rule of law in Athenian society. The students had finished reading John Stuart Mill and were getting their first papers back for revision. It was October 2nd.

A few days later, I attended a parent meeting at Central High School, one of the city’s premier institutions. Dozens of ninth graders had spent their school year with substitute teachers who changed every week. The substitutes were put in place to relieve teachers leading classrooms with 40, 50, or even more students. For these ninth graders, school didn’t really start until October 8th, when permanent teachers were finally assigned to them.

This is what a teacher’s contract was supposed to prevent.

And it’s why the School Reform Commission’s move last week to tear up that contract is about far more than the dishonest suggestion of “shared sacrifice” and health care contributions.

Helen Gym and Bill Green Try to Find Common Ground (or Not) on Education in Philadelphia

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He’s chairman of the School Reform Commission. She’s co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. They have very different ideas about how to run the district. In mid-September — a month before the SRC voided the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers — Bill and Helen sat down for a lengthy chat. Here, their (abridged) conversation about trying to see eye to eye.

PHILLY MAG: Helen, what do you think the advocate’s role is when dealing with the SRC? Is it to convince them? Is it to pressure them? How do you attempt to influence the SRC’s decisions?

BILL: Sometimes she calls me and yells at me, and sometimes we …

HELEN: He loves it.

BILL: … have a very cordial conversation.

HELEN: I’m his voice of whatever. I think about a lot about this question of who really has power. When we’re looking at large, complicated systems … it makes me think a lot about how we listen to one another, and how we define power and decision-making and authority, and in some cases I think that we haven’t always had governing authorities that are really aware of, responsive to or reflective of the things that parents and community members care very deeply about. I think we should agree that we’re in an extremely undemocratic governance structure. The School Reform Commission is a state takeover body, it’s an unelected body, and — this isn’t, you know, personal or anything like that.
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23 Best Signs From the Philadelphia Teachers’ Protest

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Thousands of teachers jammed Broad Street before a meeting of the School Reform Commission late Thursday afternoon, protesting the SRC’s unilateral cancellation of teachers’ contracts last week.

Speakers at the protest spent a few hours railing against the SRC, Bill Green, Gov. Tom Corbett, and SRC member Sylvia Simms — who students said told them they “belong in jail” at a movie screening Simms hosted Wednesday night. There were many signs supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf, Gov. Corbett’s opponent in next month’s election.

The speakers also had strong words for the counter-protesters hired by the Commonwealth Foundation, who were also demonstrating near the front of the School District building.

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Students: School Reform Commission Member Told Us ‘You Belong in Jail’

Philadelphia School Reform Commission member Sylvia Simms lashed out at student protesters at a movie screening last night. As seen in the above video posted to YouTube by Waleed Shahid, students clapped and interrupted the screening with chants of “Philly is a union town” and “The SRC has got to go.”

The students — part of Philly Students Union, a student-led group advocating for better school conditions — disrupted a film screening hosted by Simms. Those students say Simms told them “y’all probably go to failing schools.” Al Dia reports she also said, “You belong in jail.”

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Labor Leaders Contemplated Citywide Strike to Protest SRC

The School Reform Commission’s decision to unilaterally end its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers nearly caused a shutdown of the entire city, the Inquirer reports this morning — labor leaders briefly contemplated a “general strike” that would have featured members of all area unions walking off the job to protest the decision.

They held off for two reasons: PFT president Jerry Jordan wanted to pursue legal action first. And members wanted to wait the outcome of the November 4th gubernatorial election.

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School Boards, Elections, and Philadelphia’s Utterly Failed Democracy

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Photo | Jeff Fusco

Maybe democracy in Philadelphia isn’t working so well.

That’s not a novel observation, I realize, but it takes on new urgency with the growing campaign to dissolve the School Reform Commission. What would replace it? Maybe a mayoral-appointed panel — not too different from the SRC, but with more local accountability — but maybe, maybe an elected school board.

You know: One accountable directly to the voters and taxpayers of Philadelphia.

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Hughes: Let Governor Abolish SRC

State Sen. Vincent Hughes is pushing a bill in Harrisburg that would give the governor the power to dissolve the School Reform Commission. Under current law, the SRC has the power to dissolve itself — but nobody else has that power over the SRC.
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