Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Miracle on North Broad Street

Here is my Christmas testimony to the SRC from December 17, 2015.

If it gets you into the giving mood of the holidays, please consider donating some money to the campaign efforts of the Caucus of Working Educators in the upcoming internal Philadelphia Federation of Teachers election. You can also join our organization as a supporting member.

Thank you, and enjoy the Holiday Season!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the city
The SRC was busy pondering things not so pretty.
Something was stirring from this unelected creature
Like canceling the contract of each and every teacher!
Shared sacrifice is what we heard from dear old Bill Hite
But he got a $30,000 raise and new contract in the middle of the night.
Assistant superintendents were nestled snug in their beds
With visions of $10,000 bonuses dancing in their heads.

Meanwhile, principals searched for substitutes from far and near
While children went to buildings with no nurses nor cheer.
School closures had become the disturbing new norm
With no counselors or libraries to weather the storm.

When out on 440 there arose such a clatter
The PFT sprang to see what’s the matter.
Two Mayoral appointees and from the Governor three,
I knew in a moment it must be the SRC!

Now, Farrah! Now, Jiminez! With Charter School gain
To her husband’s law firm, she’s forced to abstain.

Now, Sylvia! Now, Simms! Comcast pays for her bills
But yelling at “failing school children” is what gives her her thrills.

Now, Bill! Now, Green! The most condescending to bother
Demoted by Wolf, Do you still dream of being Mayor like your father?

Now, Feather! Now, Houstoun! By Corbett appointed
With no clear credentials, why was she anointed?

Now, Marjorie! Now, Neff! Perhaps the most able
So cancel the lawyers and get back to the negotiating table!

Unelected and resented for fifteen years did they work
Filled with Eli Broad’s nonsense, often turned with a jerk.
And so, in 2015, as Huey, Cooke, and Wister awaited their fate
Something magical happened on that cold December date...

That Christmas, the SRC did themselves vote to dissolve!!!
As the community, parents, and teachers cheered with resolve
Filling 440 with warmth from their hearts to their toes
They grabbed Dr. Hite and up the chimney they rose.
As they sprang to their sleigh and soon gave a whistle
Away they all flew like an unwelcome missile.
The SRC did exclaim as they disappeared out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to Philadelphia a good night!”

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Democracy in Philadelphia's Schools

Last month, numerous PFT members in the Caucus of Working Educators decided to speak truth to power at the School Reform Commission meeting held by the School District of Philadelphia. The unelected and undemocratic SRC has held the teachers, students, and city of Philadelphia hostage for the past 15 years. Inspired by my fellow union sisters and brothers, I decided to address the SRC as well.

For those who are one of the 11,000 members in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers:
Please be aware that there will soon be an internal PFT election. Ballots will be mailed to your house sometime in February. You must vote by completing the ballot, then mail it back in the self-addressed envelope. Familiarize yourself with the entire WE slate (I am running as Legislative Representative) and our platform. The incumbent CB slate (currently led by PFT President Jerry Jordan, who hasn't been in the classroom since 1987) has held power since 1983 and not seen a credible challenge to their position in all of those years. I humbly ask that you vote for the WE slate but, whoever you vote for...

For those of you who are friends, parents, community members, or teachers:
Please consider donating to the election efforts of the Caucus of Working Educators. It will take a lot of time, effort, and supplies to bring change to the largest union in Philadelphia but, with your help, we can bring an end to the status quo unionism of the past three decades!

Thank you.

George Bezanis SRC testimony - October 15, 2015 from Ken Derstine on Vimeo.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC,

My name is George Bezanis. I am a History teacher at Central High School, a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, and a Philadelphia public school parent. 

I have also been democratically elected by my fellow citizens as a Committeeperson in the 63rd Ward, the PFT Building Representative at Central High School, and the President of the Fox Chase Homeowners Association.

That is the one word that seems to terrify this body the most. Not one of you has been placed in this position of power through the process that this nation has been built upon. You refuse to use democratic methods when determining what to do with schools that have been starved of resources. You refuse to listen to the voices of the parents, community members, and teachers you are meant to be representing. And finally, you mock the democratic citizens of this city by using Independence Hall in the School Reform Commission’s logo. Guantanamo Bay would have been a better choice.

Last year when, for the first time, this body finally decided to ask parents at Muñoz-Marin and Steele Elementary what they wanted, the democratic process showed that they had clearly rejected two of the fastest growing charter providers in this city, ASPIRA and Mastery. And so, what did Superintendent Hite and this body decide to do with this newest round of school closures? Parents are no longer allowed to vote because, God forbid, they may not vote the way you tell them to. You’ve had enough. It’s time to back off from the dreaded D-word.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’ve had enough of you. Three of you were appointed to this position by Tom Corbett - a Governor so unpopular that, for the first time in modern Pennsylvania history, he was unable to win re-election. He left. You stayed. Governor Wolf was elected last November on a platform that specifically called for your disbandment. You stayed. The citizens of this city voted, by an incredible 96% majority referendum, to get rid of you in May. You stayed. Members of the School Reform Commission: You’re like bad dinner party guests who just won’t leave. Your food has been served, you’ve had your fill, you’ve spilled a few drinks, so go away already.

I want you to think about that word for a second and, for once, act like an American, not as a member of the SRC, or a political appointee. This isn’t North Korea or Saudi Arabia. This is Philadelphia. The United States of America. It’s time for you to return control of these schools to 

It’s time for you to vote to dissolve this sham of a school board.

  George Bezanis

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Letter to the PFT Contract Negotiating Team

The following letter was drafted and signed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Building Committee at Central High School in early June 2015. Addressed to the PFT's Negotiating Team and signed by a majority of the PFT members in the school, these are words of resolve and encouragement as we continue to demand a fair contract.

UPDATE: Today we received Jerry's response.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Losing My Virginity to the SRC

Today, the School Reform Commission of the School District of Philadelphia decided to honor the A.S.A.P. Debate League with an award. As the Debate Coach at Central High School and the Site Organizer of the entire league, I was also included in these honors.

Later on in the meeting, I decided to speak to the SRC - the nervous first time I have ever done so - inspired by my many fellow coworkers, colleagues, and friends in the PFT's Caucus of Working Educators who have had the courage to speak out at numerous other SRC Meetings before me.

You are my muses.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC,

I appeared in front of you earlier in this meeting as a teacher, Debate Coach and Site Organizer for the entire A.S.A.P. League matches at Central High School. I posed for a photograph and accepted your award.

I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committeeperson in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…

Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…

Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools!”

Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district…

Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone…

Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge!

And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later.

Do you know how much my pay cut was last year? I didn’t get paid for running the Debate program, but continued to do so (free of charge) because I had to look my students in the eyes – not you. As we approach yet another September without a contract, my total lost step and degree wages are now approaching $15,000.

Meanwhile, this body votes in new charters it can’t afford, continues to hire 6-figure employees, extend contracts to Teach For America, and refuses to lobby for PILOT payments, abatement reform, or “interest rate swap” renegotiation.

Instead, you say that the PFT needs to give back. Don’t pretend to thank teachers like myself by giving them awards at the beginning of an SRC meeting, and then secretly voting to take away my contract.

If you really want to thank teachers like me, forget the cheap photo-op and
 Get back to the negotiating table!

Give us a fair contract! 

Then, hopefully, you can
  Vote to dissolve this sham of a school board!