Teachers unions' hope ride on November election

Posted: September 04, 2014

AS TEACHERS prepare to return to Philadelphia schools with fewer resources and still without a contract, union leaders already have an eye toward November.

That's when Democrat Tom Wolf looks to defeat Republican Gov. Corbett, who trails by 30 points in a Robert Morris University poll released yesterday. The union's hope is that Wolf, a businessman who publicly supports a tax on natural-gas drillers to help fund education, would restore some of the money cut under Corbett.

"It's very big," Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said yesterday of the upcoming election, standing outside Girls High School in Olney, where the union held its first general membership meeting since last school year. "Certainly, we have a pattern, we have a history during the administration of Gov. Ed Rendell. We had a fair funding formula that the Legislature during his tenure approved and the governor implemented, and it was very, very helpful for every school district in the commonwealth, not just for Philadelphia.

"And so that was eliminated by Gov. Corbett, and our children deserve to have those resources in the school district, so that children will be offered full educational programs."

If Wolf wins, he would still have to deal with a GOP-controlled Legislature, but Jordan does not believe that would be a stumbling block.

"The Republican legislators have children who attend schools in their district, and they want for their children what we want for our children," he said.

In recent years, the district has eliminated thousands of positions, closed more than 30 schools and slashed its Central Office budget, partially due to cuts in state funding. Last month, district officials announced the elimination of more than 20 additional positions, fewer school police and reduced building maintenance to address an $81 million deficit.

And unless state lawmakers authorize a $2 per-pack cigarette tax for Philadelphia, Superintendent William Hite said the district may have to make thousands of additional layoffs during the school year, including teachers.

Wolf's election isn't the only thing on the union's agenda. Officials also hope to abolish the School Reform Commission, which has overseen the district since 2001 and reinstitute a locally run school board. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten described the election and regaining local control as the "path forward."

"We talked [to the members] about the path forward and how to change things, not just how to fight back, but how to move forward, both through the election process and then through ultimately negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that's good for kids and fair for teachers," Weingarten said.

Despite both sides saying they want a new deal, Jordan said yesterday that there still has been no movement on a new contract. The current contract expired in August 2013.

Our members are "certainly anxious to settle a contract, but they're not anxious to settle it at . . . any cost," he said.

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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