The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) just completed its 2016 election on February 24, 2016. The Caucus of Working Educators (WE) ran against the incumbent Collective Bargaining Team (CB). The CB team has been in leadership since 1983 and President Jerry Jordan has been a PFT staffer since 1987. This was the first contested election in many years and the act of democracy was finally in full effect.
The Caucus of Working Educators formed two years ago and has amassed over 300 members with a reach to approximately 2,000 PFT and supporting members. Their unique inclusion of parents, college professors/researchers, and other community members make them a force to be reckoned with. Thee PFT currently has 11,000 members. This election came at a time marked with no teacher contract, no subsequent raises, the continuous outsourcing and loss of positions, severe budget cuts, poor and unsafe working environments, with additional cuts threatened daily with each new sound byte from the School Reform Commission (SRC) and the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). In the midst of it all are children and families seeking safety, support, and solutions to dilapidated buildings, unsafe drinking water, failed turnaround initiatives, and over testing tied to graduation requirements with little to no resources.
The purpose of any election is to practice the act of democracy. The practice of casting a vote for a person or group who you believe will get the job done. It is an important practice to participate in and is often ignored or passively viewed from afar. But without it, individuals will fail to participate in critical thinking and debate, discernment, or most importantly the concept of change.
The election has ended and the Collective Bargaining Team is back in leadership. Now there are talks of more churn and burn for the schools. 50% of staff being retained as a part of the turnaround language that was bargained into the previous teacher contract is still on the books. Despite the results of the election, there is a great opportunity for the nearly 6,000 members that did not vote to do something different. Each PFT member has the chance to become actively engaged by truly observing each action and reaction of the current PFT leadership. Four years to ask questions and attend every Executive Board meeting to make sure that every addendum and decision includes your voice. Four years to join the Caucus of Working Educators. Four years to engage with parents and the surrounding community to continue the fight for public schools in Philadelphia. Four years to force the hand of the newly elected governor, mayor, and city council members to replicate the good news from Chicago and replace this state control bureaucracy with a fully democratically elected school board. In other words, practice what we expect all of the students to do or become, fully activated in the processes that govern our livelihoods and life as opposed to simply watching from the backseat and hoping passively for the best.