Teachers' union furious over Council maneuver

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten (left) and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan (right). (File photo: Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

Leaders from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and its national arm came out swinging against City Council on Friday. The union chiefs said they were shocked and insulted by Council's failure to put on the November ballot a referendum asking voters whether they think the School Reform Commission should be replaced with an elected school board.

The local control referendum, which would have been nonbinding, was widely expected to make the ballot. The stage was set on Thursday, with a large rally before the Council session.

But Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, sponsor of the bill to put the measure onto the November ballot, said she pulled the bill because she did not want to endanger the passage of a $2-per-pack cigarette tax in Harrisburg.

Jerry Jordan, PFT President, and Randi Weingarten, leader of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted Council in a statement issued on Friday.

"Given the support for local control expressed in the past by our city's elected officials, Council's failure yesterday to put the referendum up for a vote was not only shocking, it was insulting to the 40,000 citizens who signed on in support of the measure," Jordan said.

Weingarten, who has devoted considerable attention to Philadelphia, said that the "community submitted tens of thoursands of signatures demonstrating they want a referendum on local control of their school district. In denying them this chance, the City Council is letting the community down. This begs the question, 'Why are they afraid of a vote?'"

Both Jordan and Weingarten said the union will continue to push hard on the local control issue, despite the defeat this week.