On Monday, the School Reform Commission shocked the entire city by suddenly voting to unilaterally cancel the contract for teachers, nurses, secretaries and others. With almost no notice and no opportunity for public comment before the vote, the state-controlled School Reform Commission canceled the fair contract that the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had negotiated with the district. They decided, with no input from teachers, students, or parents, that teachers would have to pay more for their health insurance. They also made other changes to prescription, dental, vision, and other benefits, and end them for retired teachers and staff.
In response, we took to the streets that same afternoon. The cause of the Philadelphia schools crisis is Gov. Tom Corbett’s refusal to provide full funding for education across the state. He has cut $1 billion from education statewide and $272 million from Philadelphia schools since taking office. He also appoints a majority of the members of the School Reform Commission, the un-democratic governing board of the Philadelphia schools since they were taken over in 2001.
We joined parents, students, retired teachers, and others in front of the governor’s Philadelphia office building to protest the latest attack on teachers and students and the continuing failure to fund our schools. The schools budget cannot be balanced on the backs of hard-working teachers. The city wants full funding from the fair sources we’ve been promoting for months: a reasonable tax on shale gas extraction, a freeze on business tax cuts, and a fair tax system across the state. Unilaterally cutting benefits for teachers is unfair union-busting that violates the sanctity of a contract. It also sends the worst possible message to our children: that we value tax cuts for big businesses and the wealthy more than the hard work of teachers.
The manner in which the SRC made this change also underscores the need for local control of our schools. The SRC moved with almost no transparency, no public comment, and little notice. The commission ignored the voices of teachers, parents, students, and the city. Gov. Corbett and his SRC appointees have once again completely abdicated responsibility for leading our schools.