Thousands protest Philly school closings, layoffs

PHILADELPHIA – Responding to a call by the Service Employees’ International Union, more than a thousand people marched through downtown here and rallied in front of the School Reform Commission offices May 23, protesting the commission’s latest consultant-supplied plan for mass closings of public schools, layoffs of staff in all categories, union-busting, and privatization of schools.

The latest scheme comes after a decade of mismanagement by the commission, which was imposed on Philadelphia by the state government in place of the previous Board of Education. This decade has included the conversion of numerous public schools to charter (semi-private) schools, with no overall improvement in results. It has also included a revolving door of superintendents, reliance on the recommendations of private consultants, layoffs, and increased workloads for school workers, among other problems.

Most recently, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s latest budget starves Philadelphia’s public schools, but includes three new prisons.

The May 23 action was seen by its organizers and participants as a response to a national attack on public education and on unions, with Philadelphia as the present prime target.

While most who participated were from SEIU (school bus drivers, maintenance workers, etc.), other unions and of community and school groups were also present.  At least one busload of supporters came from New York City, and support rallies occurred in several other cities in Pennsylvania.

The Philadelphia action had a strong spirit of unity and determination in support of public schools, shown by T-shirts, signs, and chants. Speakers included Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, who indicated the PFT’s support for the SEIU school workers.

Repeated calls were made for a big turnout at another rally in front of the SRC offices at 440 North Broad Street on Thursday May 31 starting at 4:30 p.m. That is when the SRC is to vote on its current plan. The rally is to demand a vote of “No.”

Photo: May 23 Philadelphia march slams plan for school closings, layoffs, privatization, via SEIU 32BJ