Philly union makes major concessions to help fund schools

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter continues to bash teachers and their unions and to resist efforts to compromise on solutions to secure the funding needed to open the city's public school system with the resources students need.

On Aug. 28, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers offered substantial concessions to move toward a contract settlement and save the district millions of dollars by forgoing pay increases and making changes to employees' healthcare benefits. The PFT offered these concessions despite the fact that Philadelphia's teachers already earn 19 percent less than teachers in surrounding suburban districts.

Philly petitions

"We are facing a dire situation where our children will not have access to the services they had last year," says PFT President Jerry Jordan, who is an AFT vice president. "I'm comfortable making these recommendations to my members because I know that no one has a greater desire than school district employees to do what is required to give students the best opportunity to learn."

Rather than welcoming the PFT's flexibility, Nutter dismissed the offer and repeated his demand for deep salary cuts and changes in seniority and work rules.

Commenting on Nutter's negative response to the pay-freeze proposal, Jordan says it's clear Nutter "is less concerned about schools opening on time and having the staff and supports kids need, and more interested in taking voice away from educators. It's time for Mayor Nutter to show real leadership and work with educators, parents and students to give our kids the public education they deserve."

On the same day the PFT announced its concessions, the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools delivered 10,000 signatures to Nutter demanding that he fully fund the city's schools. (See photo above.) The group brings together teachers, parents and community members who are working to improve Philadelphia's schools.

In a statement, PCAPS noted that "teachers did not make this mess, politicians did, notably Gov. Tom Corbett, who chopped a billion dollars out of the education budget and has refused to restore funding to earlier levels. Now it's time to stop bashing the teachers and their union, recall the laid off employees, and come up with solutions to our funding crisis."

The PFT is receiving widespread support from different groups around the city. "We stand with Philly teachers who perform a difficult job every day while earning 19 percent less than their counterparts in the suburbs," says Gabe Morgan, vice president of a Service Employees International Union affiliate that represents the district's maintenance, cleaning and transportation employees. "Blue collar workers and teachers have demonstrated their commitment to the safety and education of our city's children. Now it's up to our elected leaders to rescue Philadelphia schools from Gov. Corbett's path of destruction by demanding full funding."

High school freshman Giancarlos Rodriguez, a member of Youth United for Change, helped PCAPS deliver the petitions to Nutter. "It is your job to make sure that we students receive a good education," he says. "Just because the state isn't helping us out doesn't mean that you have to stop too. You have power over the budget in this city, but we have the power and right to speak and say what we have to say. Are you listening?"

Parents United weighed in with the demand that Nutter and the Philadelphia City Council "put aside their differences and recognize that the $50 million they promised to open schools is simply not enough. We are not sending our children to school to go to a shell of a building. We send our children to school for the education they deserve. Any city plan must be crafted with an express goal to restore all counselors to our schools and eliminate split grades and overcrowding."

"We continue to believe it is the responsibility of the state, which took over our district in 2001, and the city to come up with funding not just to solve this immediate crisis, but to ensure that our schools are guaranteed the resources to provide every Philadelphia schoolchild the opportunity of a great school," says the community group Action United. "Our schools are getting ready to open without counselors, nurses, art and music, and extracurricular activities, and without enough secretaries, teachers and paraprofessionals to meet the needs of our children."

Meanwhile, an Aug. 29 story in the Philadelphia City Paper reveals that at the same time as the school district is set to spend a projected $729 million on charter schools in the coming fiscal year, at least one charter operator is being criticized for questionable use of taxpayer dollars. Aspira Inc., the paper reports, owes millions to four Philadelphia charter schools it runs—money that isn't going to educate students.

More information on Philadelphia, including ads calling on Nutter to reclaim the promise of public education in the city, is available at www.fundphillyschools.com.

[Dan Gursky, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Philadelphia City Paper]

August 29, 2013