PHILADELPHIA – A couple dozen members of the Philadelphia Student Union highlighted their misguided views on their school district’s reform efforts when they attempted to shut down a screening of “Won’t Back Down” at district headquarters.
About 20 minutes into the screening Wednesday evening, students in the first few rows of the auditorium walked up in front of the screen and began chanting and clapping to disrupt the movie, a 2012 film that illustrates how union policies inhibit educational success.
The screening was sponsored by Comcast Internet Essentials and Sylvia Simms, a member of the district’s state-appointed School Reform Commission, which decided recently to cancel the teachers union contract and impose health insurance changes after years of unproductive negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Newsworks.org reports.
Students at the screening, however, appear to be under the PFT’s spell, and blamed the SRC for the district’s failures.
“The School Reform Commission decided to show a movie that blames teachers and their unions for the state of public education,” student Avery McNair told the news site. “It’s the government that should be blamed for the budget deficit, not teachers.”
McNair and the other PSU protestors apparently are unaware that last year city and state officials secured a deal for extra funding for the city’s schools, while PFT officials steadfastly opposed any form of concessions to contribute toward the district’s chronic, multimillion dollar budget woes.
Simms reacted to the incident by shouting at students, according to the new site.
“You kids must be going to a failing school,” she said.
“Won’t Back Down” features Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis, a parent and teacher respectively, who fight against a system rife with unsympathetic bureaucrats and union officials to implement a parent trigger, a legal maneuver approved in California that gives a majority of parents the ability to transform failing schools.
The students did not see the obvious parallels between the film and their current situation, and mouthed the same misguided objections to the film as union officials have in the past.
“They’re showing a propaganda film in order to manipulate parents o show how the SRC canceled the teachers’ contract last week,” McNair told Newsworks. “If students don’t stand up for themselves and for their teachers, it’s just going to keep spiraling downward. We deserve the same quality of education as the suburbs.”
Under the district’s collective bargaining agreement, one of the most generous in the nation, district resources are squandered on numerous unnecessary expenses like free paid personal legal services for school employees, a multi-million dollar “PFT Health and Welfare Fund,” nearly free health insurance, and an array of other expensive union perks – from payments for unused sick days to special payments for “lost preparation time.”
EAGnews has repeatedly highlighted many of the sky-high labor costs tied to the PFT contract:
In 2010-11, for example, the school district spent a whopping $133 million and some change on health insurance for employees represented by the teachers union. The employees did contribute something that year – a combined $132,000 – which covered less than one percent of the cost.
Other labor costs resulting from union contract provisions have also been extremely expensive for the district. For instance, in 2010-11 the district spent $14.4 million on a three percent general raise for all teachers, plus $16.8 million for the automatic, annual step raises received by all teachers, regardless of performance.
The district paid out $36.2 million the same year in “severance pay” to teachers leaving the district due to resignation, retirement or even termination. It paid a collective $1.4 million to various teachers for “lost preparation time.” It paid $5.2 million toward a “wage continuation plan” for sick or injured employees who had exhausted their paid sick time. It paid out $519,000 to teachers who had attained Level 1 or 2 teaching certificates.
The school district even paid $2.3 million in 2010-11 to help cover employees’ personal legal costs!
Those expenses have made it virtually impossible for Philadelphia school officials to offer “the same quality of education as the suburbs,” and PFT leaders have done nothing to help the situation.
After about 15 minutes of protest the students dispersed as police arrived at the “Won’t Back Down” screening, after which the movie resumed, according to media reports.