Thursday, 16 October 2014

KATE BATES' LETTER TO EDITOR JESSE BACON - Corbett's SRC is outrageous! Fracking for export must end ...

 From: Kaamilah (Kate Bates)

Date: Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Subject: your letter to the editor
To: Jesse Bacon <>

Yes it is good, thanks. K.Bates

On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, Jesse Bacon <> wrote:

Hi Kathleen,
I edited your letter a bit , mostly  for length.

Corbett's SRC is outrageous!  I support the teachers, students and parents against this supposed reform school position.  Fracking for export must end because of risk to our water table and life itself but while this ghastly program is in effect tax them to the hilt. Tax the shale, not the teachers!

Does that look ok?
Jesse Bacon, Communications Director
PA Working Families


"That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children…. is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination…. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose… tied to one another by a common bond." —Senator Paul Wellstone — March 31, 2000


In Philly, Governor Tom Corbett’s School Reform Commission Cancels Teachers’ Contract

You might have missed this news.  It wasn’t covered extensively outside Philadelphia.  Early Monday morning at a meeting that had been announced publicly with only a small notice in the newspaper, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission—Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s state “oversight” body, a sort of stand-in for a locally elected school board—summarily cancelled the school district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The purpose of the cancellation was, of course, to free up enough money for the School District of Philadelphia to operate through this school year.  It is now admitted that the local $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes—that the state legislature finally permitted Philadelphia to levy—won’t yield as much money as had been hoped.
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook explains: “At a special meeting that was barely publicized until hours before its 9:30 A.M. start, with no public testimony before acting, the School Reform Commission unanimously voted to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in order to rework its health-care provisions.”  The School Reform Commission explained that by revoking the union contract, it won’t cut salaries but will require teachers to contribute to their health care premiums.  According to the Notebook, “The SRC will also stop underwriting the union’s Health and Welfare Fund, which provides prescription, dental, vision and other benefits to active members and retirees.”  Benefits for retirees will be ended entirely.
According to the Notebook, “The SRC has already ignored provisions of the expired contract.  In summer 2013 it stopped paying teachers for so-called ‘step’ and ‘lane’ increases, which accrue automatically based on experience and advanced degrees earned.”
Chairman of the School Reform Commission, William Green and the school district’s Superintendent William Hite are described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying that the cancellation of the contract is necessary so that money can be used to re-hire enough teachers to reduce class size and bring back key staff such as counselors and school nurses.  Hite commented: “But we still don’t have sufficient resources in order to educate our children.  This allows us to save millions of dollars that we can return to schools very quickly.”  In a follow-up article by the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Hite is quoted: “I’ve said over and over again, ‘We don’t pay them enough.’ But I’ve also said, given the fiscal environment in which we are facing, we all have to share in the sacrifice….”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the School Reform Commission is not entirely sure that the law passed in 1998 by which the state seized control of the school district from the local school board permits the abrogation of the legal contract with the teachers union: “The district will immediately go to court to affirm the SRC’s action, filing a motion for declaratory judgement with the Pennsylvania Department of Education as co-plaintiff.”  The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers will seek an injunction to block the School Reform Commission’s cancellation of the contract.
When Governor Tom Corbett and members of his appointed School Reform Commission demand “shared sacrifice” from Philadelphia’s teachers, one has to step back to consider what has really been going on in Pennsylvania.  In 2011, Corbett, a strong believer in low taxes, slashed over $1 billion out of the state’s education budget.  The school funding formula that directed at least some additional money to school districts like Philadelphia with overwhelming family poverty was scrapped.  Charter schools in Pennsylvania are known to be poorly regulated in state law, and they also take money directly out of local school district budgets.  Philadelphia is host to more charter schools than any other school district in the state.  All this has created a financial crisis that has shifted the burden for serving Philadelphia’s children almost entirely onto the shoulders of classroom teachers and building principals.  Support services of all sorts have not only been reduced; in many schools they have been eliminated.
In yesterday’s coverage, the Notebook reported: “Class size has grown.  Northeast High started off the year with a science class with 62 students and Central with an English class of 50.  Students have had to raise money themselves to put on a play, print a newspaper, or run an after school club.  Most schools have art or music instruction, but few have both.  Parents donate copy paper.”
This blog has extensively covered the school funding crisis Governor Corbett and the legislature have created.  To demonstrate the range of concerns, I’ll provide not mere links but also the dates and titles of the posts: PA Permits Cigarette Tax, But Crisis in Philly Drags On, October 1, 2014; Schools Open in Philadelphia, But Crisis Drags On, September 16, 2014;  Swarthmore Profs Say Philly Schools Lack Needed Money: PA Funding Process Flawed, August 13, 2014;  Huge Hole Remains in Philadelphia School Budget; Legislature Goes Home without Addressing Crisis, August 7, 2014;  Textbook Budgets and Book Distribution Tightly Connected with Standardized Test Scores, July 16, 2014;  Pennsylvania Budget Fails to Provide for Desperate Education Needs of Philadelphia’s Children, July 1, 2014;  Refusing to Educate Other People’s Children: Woes Continue in Philadelphia, June 23, 2014;  Unequal Opportunity the Norm: Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, May 21, 2014;  Philly Parent Activist: How Portfolio School Reform Is Destroying the School District, April 14, 2014;  Lacking Fair Basic Aid Plan, Pennsylvania Continues to Starve Philly Schools, February 13, 2014;  and How Philadelphia’s School Crisis Crushes Opportunity: Money and Stability Matter, November 30, 2013.
We are a culture that values people we consider “good sports,” especially when they are women. By abrogating a legal contract with Philadelphia’s teachers, Governor Corbett and his appointed overseers of the Philadelphia schools are implying that school teachers should be good sports and return to the old model—the schoolmarm who boards with a local family and stays in the spare bedroom and who gives up her working life when she herself has a family. It is a model that imagines the personal sacrifice and devotion of well-intentioned young women.  It is also a model from the nineteenth century.
Today we know that teachers’ salaries for men and women are needed to support their families.  We require teachers to be well-trained professionals who earn step increases by furthering their own expertise over the years.  We no longer consider them to be temporary babysitters who give a few years to school children but are really on their way to marriage and motherhood or to a more remunerative “real” profession later.  Or do we?   The calls by people like Governor Tom Corbett for shared sacrifice and appeals to the image of the devoted nineteenth century schoolmarm are especially cynical these days. Really in Pennsylvania and across the country, what politicians expect is for teachers to sacrifice so that the rest of us can have more tax cuts.

The Guardian home

The real victims of Tom Corbett's move to screw over teachers will be the children of Philadelphia

But bashing educators is integral to the political playbook of America’s most vulnerable governor and his Republican party
cancel corbett
Do you think corporations need tax breaks more than teachers need their full paychecks? Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP
Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Bill Green declared on Monday that my teachers union needs to “share in the sacrifice”.
And then the unelected, unaccountable entity charged with school oversight for the fifth largest city in the United States – in a last-minute meeting that took only 17 minutes and entertained no public comment – voted unanimously to cancel its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) and demand new healthcare contributions from its employees.
Of course, Green’s words sounded awfully familiar: Republican governor Tom Corbett said the same in August, when he declared – not for the first time – that it was up to the teachers of Philadelphia’s public schools to fix the funding crisis that Corbett created through tax breaks for corporations, his refusal to tax Marcellus Shale drillers, the abandonment of an equitable state school funding formula and $1bn in budget cuts to education funding in Pennsylvania (in which poorer districts like Philadelphia were disproportionately hit).
Bashing teachers is an integral part of the political playbook of America’s most vulnerable governor: Corbett insults the teachers (and their union) in order to pit them against their own students, schools and communities. That it was more than just a personal bugbear became clear in June 2013, when we learned that PennCAN, yet another so-called “school-reform” group focused on vouchers, privatization, and the destruction of public schooling, had financed a “secret poll” that encouraged Corbett to attack the PFT in hopes of gaining support ahead of his midterm reelection campaign. (Not that his prospects for winning were any good – an actual, legit poll has Corbett down 17% with less than a month before Election Day.)
Starving the public education system and demanding that teachers personally make up the shortfall is not about the kids or the classrooms, or some considered ideological position, or even about budgetary savings. Cancelling contracts for people who educate your kids is about politics, plain and very cynical.
Why cynical? Because all of this – the systematic underfunding of schools, the cutting of budgets, the laying off of staff, the closings of schools to the point that the phrases “doomsday” and “empty shell” are commonplace to describe our educational system, this patched-together program of borrowing-and-advancing against our future and still cutting more services that our kids so desperately need – this was all intentional.
Our counterparts in surrounding districts do not have to contribute thousands of dollars out of their own pockets for the most basic supplies, like paper, pencils, even toilet paper, just so their students can have something beginning to resemble an appropriate educational environment. Those districts aren’t lacking in counselors, or nurses, or libraries and librarians, books and curricular materials – all while working with the neediest children. Their class sizes aren’t skyrocketing – with sometimes more than 40 kids per classroom – without adequate furniture, or textbooks, or space. Those schools in the rich suburban districts aren’t crumbling and sporting mold like it’s the newest back-to-school fashion accessory.
They also don’t serve a student population that is almost 86% non-white. And they’re not being asked to ante up to fix a problem of the governor’s making in a city where he’s expected to be voted out of office by embarrassing margins.
Green and the SRC say that the new, mandatory contributions to heathcare premiums of 10-13% are “not a reduction in salary”, though they’ll reduce the already-stretched paychecks of every teacher and employee of Philadelphia’s public schools. But not only do Corbett and his appointees at the SRC think that the educators of Philadelphia can’t do basic math, they also think we have amnesia.
Over a year ago, we offered to make the “sacrifices” that our elected officials demanded: we offered to take a pay freeze and make changes to our benefits, including making contributions to our healthcare premiums, totalling tens of millions of dollars. Those proposals were rejected out of hand – Corbett’s SRC refused to even met the PFT at the bargaining table to negotiate because to do so would have been to undermine their ultimate objective. They wanted this moment of political opportunity, and they wanted it in time for Corbett’s reelection. They wanted to present the revocation of our contract and the reduction in our pay to the citizens of Philadelphia (and, more importantly, the rest of Pennsylvania, where Corbett stands a remote chance at the polls) as though it were a foregone conclusion that our city’s educators are irrevocably opposed to the needs of our kids – that we wouldn’t have stepped up or sacrificed enough.
But to demand that the very educators who go to work and serve our kids every day be the only ones to pay for the mistakes of our political leadership is outrageous. To posit that we are a legitimate source of funding to cover corporate tax breaks is an insult not only to us teachers, but to the Philadelphia citizenry as a whole.
This is a lame-duck governor with no wins in his legislative agenda, who faces terrible poll numbers and the prospect of an election day haunted by the specter of laid-off educators, reduced services and skyrocketing property taxes as his impending legacy, unilaterally imposing unreasonable terms on a population his campaign advisers told him he’d look good being bad to. This is not even a Hail Mary for his campaign – it’s a “screw you”.
We hear you loud and clear, Governor Corbett. And it will feel damn good to return the favor in the voting booth, in the courts and, most importantly, in the classroom.

Philadelphia’s school reform debacle: Despised governor crosses the line

Gov. Tom Corbett has slashed funds and closed schools. But his latest move is the unpopular governor's most brazen

Philadelphia's school reform debacle: Despised governor crosses the lineTom Corbett (Credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
The Philadelphia school district has become the prime example of the problems with a corporate-style school “reform” agenda. Parents, teachers and students have resisted full privatization, New Orleans-style, and have found themselves punished for resistance as Gov. Tom Corbett, who controls the schools after a 2001 takeover by the state, slashes school budgets, wipes out thousands of jobs, and shutters dozens of schools.
The latest move by Corbett and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC), which replaced an elected school board after the 2001 takeover, is to unilaterally cancel the city’s contract with the 15,000 members of the Philadelphia Federation of teachers.
Monday morning, the SRC held a surprise meeting—announced, not on their website as usual, but with an advertisement in the legal section of the newspaper over the weekend. Normally, said Kati Sipp of the Pennsylvania Working Families Party, the commission meets on Thursday evenings, at a time when parents and students can attend, rather than at a time when school is in session and many parents are at work. “It was clearly designed to not be a public event,” Sipp said.
The state takeover in 2001 came in the wake of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by then-Philadelphia Superintendent David Hornbeck, claiming that state funding favored affluent white suburbs over the children of color who attend Philly public schools. Pennsylvania state politics often pit the city, portrayed as a hotbed of crime and poverty, against the white suburbs and center of the state, and this was no exception: the state government reacted furiously, Daniel Denvir reported at The Nation, taking over the district and eliminating the teachers’ union’s right to strike. (It’s worth noting that the laws enabling the state to take over Philly schools only apply to Philly schools, not to any other district in the state.)
Those laws also allow the SRC to impose terms on the union, but, Sipp said, this is the first time they’ve done so. “Everyone’s always seen it as the nuclear option. Today they pushed the red button.”


What brought the SRC to the “nuclear option”? As in so many other places where public sector workers have been attacked by right-wing governors claiming austerity, it is supposedly all about money. Specifically, the SRC wants to make the teachers pay for their health benefits, which were previously covered by the district as part of their compensation package. This will amount to less take-home pay for the teachers, who already make less than their suburban counterparts, but SRC chair William Green said that the money will provide $44 million for the school district this year. ”The time has come for [the teachers] to share in the sacrifices that everyone else had made,” he said.
The union had been working under the terms of its expired contract for 21 months while negotiating with the district, and its president, Jerry Jordan, issued a statement noting that the teachers, not the SRC, were the ones to put forward the last proposal in bargaining, and had received no response. “In August 2013, the PFT put contract proposals on the table that would have saved the district millions of dollars and averted the current budget deficit,” he said. “Governor Corbett’s SRC is clearly not interested in negotiating with the educators of Philadelphia.”
What is unclear at this moment is whether the SRC will impose other conditions on the teachers. A document provided by the teachers notes a laundry list of concessions that the district was demanding of the teachers: salary reductions and benefit payouts, but also unlimited evening meetings with no pay, elimination of certain safety protections for teachers, and the elimination of seniority.
As usual, the move seems more punitive than anything—Sipp noted that the governor has done little to ensure the district will be equitably funded. He hasn’t pushed to tax the state’s fracking-induced natural gas boom, hasn’t closed tax loopholes that allow corporations to pocket billions. “It’s clear to me that they’re most interested in serving up the schools to their corporate allies in terms of privatization and protecting their other corporate allies from paying their fair share to educate Philly kids,” she said. “[Corbett] is not doing any of the kind of stuff that could actually bring more resources into the schools, he’s just trying to get teachers to pay more so that his friends don’t have to pay anything.”
The timing of the move has also led the teachers and their allies to suspect that the move may have more to do with Corbett’s falling poll numbers—a Quinnipiac poll out just today shows the governor a full 17 points behind his Democratic opponent (also backed by the Working Families Party) Tom Wolf. Wolf condemned the SRC’s move, saying, “This is just one more situation that has been forced by Gov. Corbett’s $1 billion cut to education in Pennsylvania and his chronic neglect of the Philadelphia public schools and schools throughout Pennsylvania.” Wolf has criticized charter school expansion, called for equitable funding for schools, and has said he wants to return to an elected school board for Philadelphia.
Corbett, Sipp noted, has not been able to succeed in the kinds of attacks on public sector workers that other Republican governors, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Rick Snyder in Michigan, have pushed through. A secret poll made public last year by Denvir at the Philadelphia CityPaper, paid for by education reform group PennCAN, suggested that “Corbett, a governor who has long suffered from low public-approval ratings, condition state aid to Philadelphia schools on major union concessions and kickstart his hobbled reelection campaign with a high-profile fight against the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.”
Sipp further pointed out that the SRC’s moved will take effect December 15, leading to speculation that the move may have been timed so that it would go into effect while Corbett was still in office, even if he loses in November.
It’s not just the Republicans who are in favor of the move, though. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who once campaigned on the fact that his daughter attended Philly public schoolstold reporters, ”In the 21st century, it becomes increasingly untenable that folks aren’t paying something for their health-care coverage and for a variety of other benefits. At the moment, those are the only other additional dollars that are available to the school district.”
Nutter has taken his share of blame for the state of the public schools—he appoints two members of the SRC to Corbett’s three. Corporate-style education reform has long been a bipartisan affair. But there’s no doubt that in Philly right now, most fingers are pointing squarely at Harrisburg.
“There is a pretty sizable appetite in the city to fight this,” Sipp said. “We’ve been canvassing around the issue of local control of the schools, we did all spring and we have been doing it again since the late summer and we’re certainly going to continue to do that moving forward into the election.” Indeed, a petition to get a nonbinding referendum on the November ballot calling for the return to an elected school board got 40,000 signatures and lots of local support, but was tanked by the City Council for fear of endangering the passage of a state cigarette tax that might bring more money into the schools.
The PFT has said that the actions are illegal, that the law requires the district to negotiate around salary and benefits, and has vowed to fight in court. They contend that helping a struggling district will require the ability to attract and retain veteran teachers who want to commit to Philly schools rather than fleeing for easier jobs in well-funded suburban schools where they won’t have to buy art supplies and bulletin boards with their own (reduced) wages.
“I don’t understand why any teacher would stay in the Philly school district except for their love of the kids,” Sipp said.

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