By Colleen Kennedy
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier today, the School Reform Commission, the unelected, appointed body that oversees Philadelphia’s citywide school district, voted unanimously to cancel the contract that has been negotiated by its teachers. In its place, significant benefits cuts have been enacted. The School District contends that it will not be making any wage cuts, but most agree that benefits are a part of the overall package for most teachers in the district, who struggle financially. The meeting took approximately 17 minutes to conclude, and there has been an uproar on social media in the way the meeting was (not) publicized. SDP is filing with the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania preemptively, knowing all too well that the PFT will challenge the validity of the cancellation of their contract in this manner.
Proponents of the plan to throw out the PFT contract have framed the decision in numbers that the public may sympathize with more - teachers will only pay 10% or 13% percent of their current medical benefits, which amounts to almost $200 per month for the average teacher. They say it will save the cash-strapped district $50 million this year, with the potential to save it upwards of $70 million for each year after that.
SDP took to Twitter with the hashtag #SDPfacts, in order to influence the public in their direction.
It backfired majorly, as hashtags tend to do.
And based on their very own infographic, the new benefits plan would out-scale the sacrifices of teachers out in West Chester, who receive higher wages, have more resources for their schools, and who have fewer overall challenges than the School District of Philadelphia.
In April 2014, SDP released a 564 page report outlining their goals for the district’s future. By page 6, they’ve stumbled upon territory already considered the land of broken promises. Via Superintendent Hite’s opening letter:
“As a school district – as a city – we should aspire to have all children exposed to rigorous academics, surrounded by caring adults with high expectations for them. Our goals are solidly intertwined; we cannot graduate 100 percent of students who are both college- and career ready if we do not have 100 percent of 8-year-olds reading on grade level. We cannot invest in making all schools great without 100 percent of the funding needed to educate all children. We cannot have 100 percent of our students meeting our high expectations without 100 percent of our schools having great principals and teachers. And we cannot enhance our workforce and regional economy without 100 percent of students becoming productive citizens." (Page 6)
If we cannot meet the goals of graduating all students in SDP, nor have 100% of eight year olds reading on grade level without great principals and teachers, then why are we making budgetary decisions that guarantee even more teacher and principal resignations?
Admittedly, the provisions passed today include a suspension of class size provisions of teacher contracts, as the Philadelphia Public School Notebook points out, so I guess SDP isn’t very concerned with the teachers they will lose with this plan. Nor are they concerned with the impact on retired teachers, who rely on their health plans through the PFT Health and Welfare Fund, funded by SDP.
As the Pew Research Center has noted, though millennials are overwhelmingly in love with the City of Brotherly Love, half predict they will leave before they create a family. Do we think young teachers will stay, this "shared sacrifice” that they apparently have not been contributing to thus far?
Governor Corbett released a statement today on the matter to the Inqy:
“Today’s action by the SRC will effectively close the funding gap and provide the district with the ability to hire new teachers, counselors and nurses, and secure educational resources that will benefit the students of Philadelphia.“
We all know what policies and what politicians caused the funding crisis to begin with, and we know who is responsible for policies at the School District of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania runs the district, and has maintained control since legislation was passed in 2001.
As Pew reported last year in their Philadelphia report, the district has seen an overall decrease in the student population of 12%, even taking into account the shift of students from traditional public schools to brick and mortar charter schools and cyber charter schools.
Families who can afford to avoid the abject mismanagement from top to bottom of Philadelphia’s school system by state officials are doing so, in droves.
Let’s also not forget the leaked poll from 2013 that showed the public Governor Corbett’s exploitative political agenda to pin the public against Philadelphia teachers. This isn’t exactly that hard to put together, if you’ve been paying attention at all.
Here’s the bottom line: here’s my question for Superintendent Hite and the SRC…if you aren’t going to follow the basic core values outlined in the first few pages of a 500+ page document from less than six months ago, why even write the thing?