We call bulls*** on the SRC
While there might be some debate about the justice of the SRC’s decision to cancel the teachers contract, there isn’t any justice in how they went about it
Let’s be clear: Dr. William Hite is not teaching our children. Neither is Mayor Michael Nutter, nor School Reform Commission members Bill Green, Farah Jimenez, Marjorie Neff, Sylvia Simms or Feather Houstoun. Nor, God help us, is Governor Tom Corbett.
The people with a direct impact on what our children learn and how prepared they are to take Philadelphia into the 21st century are teachers. The ones the School Reform Commission ambushed by cancelling its contract with their union and so it could raid the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ health and welfare fund to the tune of $54 million.
Mayor Nutter has said he supports the SRC action since the monies are the only ones available to keep the School District of Philadelphia going. He’s saying that almost exactly a month after completion of a beautification project that turned Dilworth Plaza into Dilworth Park and cost ... $55 million. A project which will — like the other pricey beautification efforts no doubt in the works — be used to sell Philadelphia as a great destination for tourists, investors, future residents. By the way, we spend $28 million a year to market ourselves to others.
Guess our city’s appearance trumps children’s futures for our mayor.
And then there is Gov. Corbett, who has also applauded the SRC’s action. No surprise here. Though the ads he is running in his reelection bid tout him as an education governor, we ask in what universe could that be true? Corbett has cut educational funding for schools across Pennsylvania by more than a billion dollars during his tenure. His disdain for the education of Philadelphia school children allowed him to capriciously withhold promised funding for months until $100 million in contract concessions were secured ... from the teachers’ union. (Those who are now saying it’s time for the teachers’ union to give something up to help our schools would do well to remember this.)
Guess the governor really is all about school choice — at least when it comes to choosing to make as difficult as possible the education of Black, Asian, Latino and white children who can’t afford to go to private and parochial schools. (Those are the schools that have most benefited from the tax credits Corbett and the GOP legislature have extended to corporations as part of the EITC program.)
But those who cast this SRC move as just another of the Republican shenanigans that have gutted education statewide are giving our city’s Democrats an undeserved pass. We’ve already mentioned Nutter’s sanction, but what about Rep. Bob Brady? As a pro-union Democratic leader his silence in regard to a public action that some characterize as outright union-busting has been noted — and found wanting.
But in the end, our outrage must fall most heavily on the SRC’s collective shoulders. Yes, they’ve been hamstrung by the Commonwealth’s arrogance and the city’s cockeyed priorities. Yes, they’ve been frustrated by 21 months of negotiations with the teachers’ union. Yes, they are good people trying to deal with a bad situation. But none of that exonerates them.
We have never been among those who have called for the SRC to be disbanded — State Rep. Ángel Cruz and mayoral hopeful Ken Trujillo are among the public figures who have — but we call bulls*** on this SRC action.
The manner in which the SRC has conducted itself has been, if not deliberately deceptive, then certainly disingenuous and obstructive.
The SRC’s tactic of hiding the meeting date by burying an announcement of it in the legal notices of a newspaper; of not posting meeting information on its website (its public face); of scheduling the meeting when those most affected and most likely to protest the action — teachers, students, parents — could not possibly show up; precluding dissenting comment until the action was a done deal, are awfully familiar to those of us who grew up in places where governmental institutions routinely trampled on the best interests of the people they purportedly represented.
This is not a pretty comparison, but a true one.
We are remembering, today, a roundtable discussion we had with Superintendent Hite, in which he lamented the way certain charter schools got around having to serve any and all Philadelphia students — by scheduling their registrations at times which almost absolutely precluded working-class and lower-income folks from being able to enroll their kids. It was wrong, he said, and the school district did not abide actions that conspire to make people powerless in their children’s education. Hello? Hello?
There are protests taking place as we write this editorial. The students are sitting out. Because they aren’t fooled about who is in the educational trenches with them every day. They aren’t fooled about who actually teaches them as opposed to those who talk about teaching them. They aren’t fooled about who is there to pick up the slack when our appointed and elected officials — who believe they know better than us and do everything in their power to not hear from us — make a mess of things.
Those students who can’t sit out in protest today are wearing red. As in stop signs. As in warnings of danger and of the need to stop and consider.
The SRC will be legally challenged, of course. But even if the action is found to fall within the bounds of the law, it violates what little trust remained between the SRC and the people the commission is supposed to serve. So, when those people hear the SRC say it doesn’t plan to do more damage to teachers than it already has, we don’t blame them for their disbelief.
We don’t believe the SRC either.