by Kathleen Melville and Tasaday Messina
WE have been making some bold moves lately - shutting down a City Council hearing to call attention to dangerous conditions in our schools, protesting the “phase-out” of Strawberry Mansion, and demanding that the rich pay their fair share to fund Philly schools. We do this because our students deserve much better than crumbling buildings and understaffed schools. And we do this because it works.
This past week, in response to growing pressure from Philly education advocates, Governor Wolf announced an additional $15 million to repair Philly schools. He also called for a major change in state education funding that would increase equity and bring more money to urban districts like Philadelphia.Read more
Yesterday when the Supreme Court of the United States reached its decision in the Janus v. AFCSME case, I know many of us immediately thought of what this would mean for the PFT. I reflected on all the times the union has made it possible for me to do my job in an ethical manner, as well as all the times the union has helped me take care of my family.
As we do with many of the privileges we live with daily, we can tend to take our union for granted. As we reach out to each other and our colleagues to help each other and our union get through this dangerous time, let’s think about all the large and small ways our union makes our lives better.
Let’s communicate to our colleagues and to each other--as well as all the anti-unionists--why we love and will stand by our union. Think of all the benefits that we and our students reap from our union membership.
Please use the hashtag #BecauseOfMyUnion to herald all the large and small ways that belonging to a union makes our work possible and our lives better.
I posted a couple of my tweets below as examples. Be creative-- #PhlEd staff are great at that!
A few more examples:
I know that #BecauseOfMyUnion I don’t have to worry about being able to afford my child’s medication. #PhlED @PFTLocal3
It’s #BecauseOfMyUnion that I can take time to be with my ill parents without fear of losing my job. #PhlED @PFTLocal3
Those of us who believe strongly that Unions help affirm the dignity and humanity of workers realize we need to stick with our union and help educate our colleagues about the value of Union membership. Of course, personal conversations and deep organizing will be our main work in stopping this attack on our union, but use of this hashtag can help us start those important conversations.
The Caucus of Working Educators centers the work of racial justice in our organizing and building power in our union, schools, and city. On June 22, employees of the Cinemark 6 at 40th and Walnut Streets and Philadelphia police officers confronted Caucus Co-Chair Ismael Jimenez, his wife Ashley Jimenez, and their family. This encounter demonstrated the deep roots of racism through unnecessary use of law enforcement.
As the statement from the Caucus committee, Building Anti Racist White Educators, says below, “instead of de-escalation and fair treatment, [the Jimenez’s] were subject to an escalation of tension based on racist projections that they were somehow a threat...As educators, we see this type of escalation occur frequently in our school district that serves mostly black and brown children...we must work to unlearn the social norms that led to the police being called on parents who should have just been allowed to get their children from the theater.”
Ismael and Ashley write that their experience was a “microcosm of the Black experience of men, women, and children throughout America. They continue: “Historically and presently, white America uses authority derived from the state to maintain control through policing
of Black lives. Recent incidents throughout America, from the disruption of a family barbeque in Oakland, to the arrest of two Black men from a Starbucks in Philadelphia, demonstrate an unreconciled contradiction regarding race in our society. By simply not being willing to be intimidated or afraid, we were perceived as needing to be put in our place. The calling of the police simply for refusing to leave without retrieving our children from the theater was a complete affront to our human dignity, not only as Black people but as parents. We have a responsibility to stand firm - individually and collectively - against injustice perpetrated against Black people.”
Read the full statement and demands here.
Members of the Caucus, Teacher Action Group - Philadelphia, and Black Lives Matter - Philadelphia, will stand with the Jimenez family at a rally and press conference outside the theatre on Friday, June 29 at 10am.
Share the news about this action here.
As Philly educators, we know how it feels to be underdogs. Every day, we are up against formidable odds - crumbling buildings, oversized classes, and too little support in meeting students’ considerable needs.
With the Janus ruling looming, we find ourselves as the underdogs, once again, in the fight for the fully funded schools that our students deserve. The Janus case is the result of a coordinated effort by very rich and powerful conservative donors to dismantle public sector unions. By attacking our unions, the wealthy on the right are hoping to defeat one of their biggest enemies - workers fighting together for good-paying jobs and robust public services. They know that when unions are strong, wages are higher for everyone. When unions are strong, the racial income gap narrows and workers of color receive better pay and working conditions. They know the power of a high-participation union, and that’s why they want to keep workers from participating.
As underdogs, we will keep up the fight - for our students, for our union, for fully funded schools in our city. When we get mailings from conservative donors, trying to convince us to leave our union, they will go straight into the trash. And when we get calls asking if we want to save money by quitting our union, we will hang up.
We will stick together, organizing our fellow educators to build a fighting, high-participation union that wins, even when the odds are against us. We all we got. We all we need.
On June 5, the Our City Our Schools coalition shut down City Council hearings on ending ten year tax abatements to increase funding for and overhaul rampant toxic conditions in Philadelphia's public schools. On June 6, City Council members pulled the bill. Below is WE member and leader Kathleen Melville's testimony that she would have given in City Council chambers.
Hello. My name is Kathleen Melville. I am a teacher in Philly public schools, a member of the Caucus of Working Educators, and the Ward Chair in the first ward. I am testifying today in support of ending the ten-year tax abatement.
This year, on rainy days, the ceiling of my classroom leaked. In two different places. Also this year, the handle of our classroom door fell off. It went unrepaired for months, and when my students asked what we would do in the case of active shooter, I did not know what to tell them. For over three years, the toilet in our girls’ bathroom was broken, wrapped in a trash bag. This year, someone on our staff finally broke down and hired a private plumber to repair it.
In the School District of Philadelphia, broken things do not get fixed. You can put in a work order, but except in the most dire situations, you’re better off inventing your own solution than waiting on the District to respond.
It’s time again for the annual Summer Reading Series! For the fifth summer in a row, the Reading Series will be a place to deepen our relationships with each other; expand our political analysis, and inform our organizing and teaching in the upcoming year. Education justice advocates around the country are asking about our Reading Series, and many are building their own and Rethinking Schools magazine just featured an article about this work!
All over Philadelphia today, educators, parents, and public education supporters are on the ballot running for local committee person positions. These positions help run elections, turn out neighbors to vote, and endorse candidates- but they often go unfilled. We vote for Committee Person every four years, and this year is one of them!
Over the last year (and more), the Caucus of Working Educators has worked alongside other organizations in the Democratize Philly Coalition to encourage and supported public education educators, parents, and supporters to run for these important local positions.
“Educators like me are getting involved in all levels of government to ensure fair and full funding for all Philadelphia public schools, and a moratorium on budget-draining charter school expansion,” explains Dan Symonds, a teacher running in South Philadelphia. “It's our turn to make decisions about the schools we all rely on." (Philadelphia Weekly)
Is there an educator or public education supporter on your ballot? Check out out list below! (This is a growing list- check back later for updates. If we missed you, please let us know ASAP!)Read more
Do you have $30? There are women sitting in jail in Philadelphia who can't afford their $30 bail, so they sit and wait until a trial date. This Mother's Day, help get as many mothers and caregivers home as possible. Donate today at http://www.phillybailout.com/donate/. (Don't worry, donations will still be accepted after Mother's Day too!)
By Clarice Brazas, WE Member and Philly Community Bail Fund Volunteer
In the state of Pennsylvania, over 5,000 children have a mother currently incarcerated. While the male population of Pennsylvania’s jails is decreasing, the female population is on the rise according to the Department of Corrections. In my classroom, on almost a weekly basis I have students who share stories about a family member who was or is jailed.
While we may say “innocent until proven guilty,” in Philly, the birthplace of independence, someone might sit in jail for several months before even having their case heard; the reason the sit and wait in jail is cash bail. The Philly Community Bail Fund knows this has to end. A third of the people in Philadelphia jails are there because of an inability to pay their bail. The intention of bail is to create a financial guarantee that a person who has been arrested will return to their court date even though there is no proven correlation between bail and court attendance. When Philadelphia’s residents are unable to pay this fee, they remain in jail until their court date. It is already known African-Americans in Philadelphia are arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than any other group. The Urban League of Philadelphia states, Black people in Philadelphia are five times more likely to be incarcerated than white people and twice as likely to be held on bail.Read more
Philly Teachers, It’s Our Turn to Fight for Public Schools!
All over the country, teachers are in the spotlight - flooding the capital in West Virginia, sharing photos of dismal conditions in Oklahoma, walking out and shutting down twenty school districts in Kentucky. These teachers are fighting. And they’re winning-- BIG. In Philly, we face the same problems - crumbling buildings, crowded classrooms, students with overwhelming needs, and the tired excuse that “there is no money” for our schools.
What: City Council Hearing where educators, parents, and students will PACK THE ROOM to demand funding for Philly Schools!
When & Where: May 8th, 5pm- City Council
Why: It’s our turn! We have a plan to bring up to $300 million to the education budget - not by overtaxing working people but by demanding that corporations, developers, and big non-profits like Penn pay their fair share.
For more information on May 8th, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the facebook event.
Help us show City Council the conditions that Philly’s students and educators endure every day:
Submit photos and video of the conditions in your school, and we will put together a video to make it clear to City Council that our students and schools deserve better. Email photos and video to FundPhillySchools@gmail.com by Thursday, May 3rd. All educators, parents, and students are invited to submit. Click here for more info.
Are you tired of the excuse that “there is no money” for our schools?
On May 8th, City Council is hosting a public hearing on raising money for our city and schools- and we are going to show City Council the conditions that Philly’s students and educators endure every day!
There IS money for schools, but only if we stand together to demand it. We are inspired by the educators all over the country, who are sharing photos of dismal conditions and flooding their state capitals in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona. These teachers are fighting. And they’re winning BIG.
(Building condition photos from Oklahoma and Detroit)
Submit photos and video of the building and learning conditions in your school, such as crumbling books, packed classes, and unhealthy buildings (feel free to get creative!). We will put together a video for May 8th to make it clear to City Council that our students and schools deserve better!
Email photos and video to FundPhillySchools@gmail.com by Friday, May 4th. We welcome all educators, parents, and students to submit, and anonymity will be respected if requested.
Then help us take the fight to City Council’s public hearing on May 8th- and demand the money our students and schools deserve! The Our City Our Schools coalition has a plan to bring up to $300 million to the education budget by demanding that corporations, developers, and big nonprofits pay their fair share, instead of increasing property taxes for everyday Philadelphians.