Friday, February 20, 2015

The School Reform Commission Took the Low Road

Teacher George Bezanis in his impassioned speech to the SRC in Philadelphia after they approved 5 more charters we can’t pay for. We join him mid-speech. Bold letters are my edit.

…I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committeeperson in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…

Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…SRC member Feather Houston

Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools…” SRC member Gloria Simms

Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district… SRC member Farrah Jimenez

Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone… SRC Chairman Bill Green

Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge… SRC member, former Philadelphia teacher and principal Marge Neff

And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later… School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite


The idea that ANY vote regarding charter schools would be already biased toward the charters should now be foremost in your mind. Their agenda has been laid bare to the general public in this speech.


Philadelphia is caught between a rock and a hard place regarding school funding. Our school board (SRC) is appointed by the Governor (3 members) and Mayor (2 members) and historically has no authority to raise taxes to pay for their budget. The school district must rely on the charity of the Philadelphia City Council as well as the benevolence of the state legislature to raise money to educate the children in the poorest big city in America. 80% of the children that attend our schools come from families that are at or below the poverty level. Surely, the city cannot use real estate taxes to pay for the schools. The funds must be and have been raised in another manner.


Previously, the city enacted several taxes to support schools, such as the “sin tax” on drinks and gambling, and a levy on the Parking Authority funds it collects from hapless drivers. Any other kind of tax needs the approval of the State lawmakers. We did get approval for an extra percent on sales tax, but only in the city. In this way, the burden falls on the poor people who inhabit the city and are paying more sales tax. With the Republican-controlled state legislature and senate, the chances of a fair deal are slim to none for the Democratic stronghold in Pennsylvania.


The most recent deal with the State was hashed out last summer, a tax on cigarettes in the city. The state lawmakers however, led by Senator Mike Turzai, held the city hostage as the only way they could get the cigarette tax was to agree to rules about more charters, and that if they did not approve a charter, the charter could appeal to the state to override the SRC’s decision.


In reality, there’s no way the SRC could have voted that made ANYONE happy. In taking the low road, they approved 5 charters out of 39 applicants. These 5 charters will cost the school district $20 million they don’t have. There is already a projected deficit of $80 million for next September and little chance of raising that money in the current legislative atmosphere. The district and city are up to their ears in debt with nowhere to go but down. The school district has cut the number of nurses, counselors and librarians. They’ve eliminated pay for extra-curricular activities. Decimated school budgets to the point where a 2000-student high school had $168 total to buy books, supplies and materials for its pupils. They’ve cut and privatized the cleaning staffs, so that the only thing that can be done every day is emptying the trash. No time for actual cleaning. They’ve cancelled the contract of the teachers and sought to change benefits so the teachers will have to pay $8000 a year to keep their current level of coverage. They’ve eliminated raises based on Masters’ and Doctoral degrees, eliminated step increase for longevity, and sought to increase the school day and year and cut teachers’ salaries by 13%. These hard-working, beleaguered teachers currently make about 20% less than the teachers in the surrounding, wealthier counties, teaching students with many more needs.


We would have liked for the SRC to have taken the high road and not approved any charters. Senator Turzai and his Republican counterparts would have like nothing more than approving ALL the charters. If fact, the Philadephia School Partnership (read charter and parochial school advocates), offered the district a bribe of $35 million dollars toward approving the 39 charters. A generous gift, it doesn’t begin to cover the costs to the School District to educate those kids. While it costs the SDP about $7000 to educate a charter school, the grant (bribe) only covered $2000 of the costs, leaving the district to come up with $5000 more per child than PSP offered. The district can’t handle the students it has now, there’s no way they could take on that kind of debt. PSP was upset and walked out of the meeting when the SRC did not approve the majority of the charters. The Senator was upset when the SRC didn’t take PSP’s money, the teachers and parents were upset when the SRC approved ANY charters, much less 5 of them. It’s not as bad as it seems because the number of “seats” added is about equal to the number of “seats” lost when 2 charter schools closed under shady circumstances earlier this year. Still, rather than continue to have to shell out the $20 million those seats are worth, the SRC could have approved none and reduced their upcoming deficit by $20 million. That would have been the high road to take. But that was not to be.
Some would have taken the high road, the SRC took the low road.

Here is George's Blog entry about the experience.

Still learning!

1 comment:

  1. Let’s also talk about the attacks on teachers’ pensions across this country: