Philly teachers call on Kenney to be next mayor

Surrounded by teachers and students outside of John B. Kelly Elementary in Germantown Monday, Democratic mayoral hopeful Jim Kenney accepted the endorsement of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. 

Kenney, a 23-year veteran of City Council, has been a vocal supporter of teachers throughout the campaign.

“Teachers and principals did not cause that problems that we’re facing in the United States and in Philadelphia,” Kenney said to the crowd gathered Monday. “They are holding on by their fingertips with lack of resources and lack of respect. We’re going to fight as best we can to get them resources, but they’re certainly going to have our respect.”

The endorsement came after a citywide vote among the PFT’s active members, which includes roughly 12,000 teachers, counselors, nurses and other school staff.

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About half of those members actually cast ballots. Of those, the union voted 3 to 1 for Kenney. Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham placed second.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan says the union is ready to throw its full weight behind Kenney, which he said will include grassroots campaigning door to door in addition to the $11,500 maximum allowable direct campaign contribution.

“He has been a staunch supporter of our city’s educators, fighting to ensure that we have a say in what happens in our schools,” said Jordan.

Jordan said the PFT would not make an additional independent expenditure in support of Kenney. He wouldn’t rule out that possibility for the PFT’s parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers.

Kenney said having the union’s support is about more than dollars and cents.

“The most important part is that educated, intelligent people who work with children every day think that I will do a good job for them,” he said. “That’s very, very gratifying.”

Kenney’s stance on recent controversies gave PFT members plenty of reason to show support. He criticized the School Reform Commission’s October decision to unilaterally cancel the teachers contract. And he opposed the recent expansion of new charter schools, which employ non-unionized staff.

“We also believe that he can see through many organizations attempts to buy off teachers and other departments within the School District of Philadelphia,” said teacher Steven Flemming, a reference to Kenney’s opposition to the Philadelphia School Partnership’s recent $35 million offer to help defray the cost of charter expansion.

Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed a 9 percent property tax increase to generate $105 million in recurring revenue for the school district.

Kenney said he wasn’t sure “if that would be successful in an election year.”

“It would not have been something that I would have supported out of the box,” said Kenney. “I would have looked at other ways of raising money. [Nutter] wanted to bring back the sugar tax again. He probably had a better shot of getting that than a property tax [increase].”

Kenney said Nutter should have waited to see how Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposals worked their way through the Legislature before asking City Council “to have to make a Hobson’s choice of ‘do you support education,’ or do you raise taxes again on people who just had their taxes raised under AVI.”

State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, another Democratic mayoral hopeful, has the backing of a trio of wealthy school-choice advocates who run the Susquehanna International Group, a Bala-Cynwyd-based quantitative trading firm.

In addition to Kenney, Williams and Abraham, former PGW executive Doug Oliver, former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz and former state Sen. Milton Street have formally filed to run as democrats in the May 19 primary.

Businesswoman Melissa Murray Bailey is the sole Republican candidate in the race.

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