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

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