Poll indicates unhappiness with SRC, Corbett's positions on education

Posted: April 17, 2014

Most Philadelphia voters disagree with the way the School Reform Commission is handling its responsibilities.

They're dissatisfied with Gov. Corbett's positions on public education.

And they side with teachers in an ongoing contract dispute with the Philadelphia School District by a ratio of 4-1 - or so says a poll commissioned by the teachers union.

The findings come from a new survey of 554 registered voters commissioned by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and conducted by a Democratic polling firm, Washington-based Hart Research Associates.

Philadelphia School District officials had no comment on the results.

PFT president Jerry Jordan said he was not surprised at the large margins by which city voters appeared to support the union, and disapprove of the governor and SRC's performance.

"The public understands what's going on," Jordan said Tuesday. "They want what's best for kids."

Corbett got low marks from city voters on education issues. In all, 74 percent of those surveyed said they were either very dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with how the governor has handled public education.

The disapproval was roughly the same across many demographics, including parents (79 percent), nonparents (73 percent), men (78 percent), women (71 percent), black voters (76 percent), and white voters (74 percent).

In a city where registered Democrats overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans, 62 percent of voters said the Republican governor's handling of education had made them less likely to support him for reelection in November. Even city voters who are not registered Democrats said Corbett's education policies made them less likely to vote for his reelection.

Corbett is considered vulnerable on public education issues. State funding for schools has declined sharply on his watch. He has proposed modest education funding increases in his 2015 budget that his critics say do not go far enough.

The voters surveyed were also generally unhappy with the way the SRC is handling its responsibilities.

Fifty-nine percent of city voters, including 64 percent of public school parents, said they disapproved of SRC decisions and policies. Sixty-eight percent of voters said they would prefer that the district be run by a local school board instead of the SRC.

Asked about the ongoing negotiations between the PFT and the district, 59 percent of voters said they sided with the union.

Voters said they saw the union as more willing to compromise, thought that it made more reasonable proposals, and worked harder to ensure adequate school funding.

"Remarkably, the union's largest comparative advantage - 65 to 20 percent - comes when we ask who is 'trying to improve education for Philadelphia's children,' " pollster Guy Molyneux wrote in a memo summarizing the survey.

The telephone survey was conducted from April 1 to 3. Pollsters put the margin of error at plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, and plus or minus 8 percentage points for results from parents of children in public schools.

In all, 55 percent of voters said that the PFT was more willing to compromise than the SRC, 55 percent said that the union, more than the SRC, was working to make sure the schools are funded adequately, and 53 percent said the PFT makes more reasonable contract proposals than the district.

Should the SRC and PFT not reach an agreement - the district has moved to impose work rules allowing it to bypass seniority for teacher vacancies, and has asked the state Supreme Court to affirm its authority to do so - 77 percent of voters said they think the SRC should continue the current contract until they reach a new one, rather than imposing terms.

District teachers have been working under an expired contract since August.

The district has said it must get more than $100 million in concessions from the PFT, but it has also insisted on major changes in work rules. School leaders say that the chronically underperforming system requires far more flexibility from teachers - a longer school day, for instance, and changes in the way teachers are assigned and even paid.

Jordan said negotiations continue. The two sides met last week, and are scheduled for three bargaining sessions next week.


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag www.inquirer.com/

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