PHILADELPHIA – Hours before the midnight deadline Nov. 30, Philadelphia Mayor John Street and Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker emerged from closed-door talks to announce that the threatened state takeover of Philadelphia’s public school system would be postponed for three weeks.

The dramatic announcement was widely viewed as a victory – although a temporary one – for supporters of public education.

Three different coalitions of community and labor activists have organized resistance to the governor’s plan to take over the nation’s fifth-largest school district, replace the local nine-member school board with a five-member “Reform Commission” and turn all or part of the district over to private, for-profit corporations.

The protests had intensified in the last week. On the afternoon of Nov. 28, over 1,000 demonstrators blocked rush hour traffic on Broad Street. They then marched to City Hall where their chants drowned out the official Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Finally, pushing past police barricades, the demonstrators insisted on joining the official holiday parade, with their chants echoing from the buildings along Market Street.

The following day, students sat in at City Hall outside the mayor’s office while hundreds of others formed a human chain around the Board of Education building. On Nov. 30 members of the Black Clergy blocked traffic at a major intersection demanding no state takeover and no privatization.

Although Gov. Schweiker has backed off his original threat to privatize the entire school district and turn the operation over to Edison Schools, Inc., he continues to insist that some degree of privatization will be necessary as the price for any increase in state funding.

On Dec. 1, members of the coalitions opposing privatization held a press conference at the headquaters of Service Employees International Union Local 1201, which represents maintenance and support personnel. There they stated their intention to continue protest actions and to build the movement against a state takeover and for adequate funding.

Helen Gym of Asian Americans United captured the mood of the group when she said of privatization, We will not let it happen here!”

An attorney from the law firm representing the school employees unions – teachers, maintenance workers and cafeteria workers – discussed the lawsuit the coalition has filed challenging the constitutionality of

Act 46. This four-year old state law empowers the governor to take over local school districts if they are in financial or academic “distress.” Because Act 46 was passed and later amended in late-night sessions without hearings or prior notice, the lawyer said, the process clearly violated the intent of both the U.S. and the Pennsylvania

constitutions.

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