The Great Unknown
ABOVE PHOTO: Protestors demonstrate calling for increased funding for public schools, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, in Philadelphia.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Thanks to a combination of negotiations between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and a slew of layoffs, the first day of school is a cause for concern for all involved.
By Denise Clay
For the first time in his experience as a School District of Philadelphia parent, Gerald Wright is worried about the first day of school.
That’s because this has been a pretty tumultuous year for the district. More than 3,000 people, including all of the district’s assistant principals, were laid off in a cost cutting measure brought on by a $304 million deficit. Mayor Michael Nutter and City Council President Darrell Clarke are debating how to come up with the $50 million they promised to give Superintendent William Hite in order for the schools to open on time.
And the teachers are coming into the school year without a new contract and are being asked to make more than $100 million in concessions, including a 5 to 13 percent pay cut.
“I’ve never had to worry about my children going back to school on a first day, but I am now,” Wright said. “No one knows what the situation is going to be at their schools. Safety is the number one concern, followed by whether or not teachers are going to be in a position to teach due to increased class size.”
Class size is just one of the many issues that the School District and the teacher’s union will be debating as they try and hammer out a new contract. Among the things that teachers are being asked to do as part of the $103 million in concessions they are being asked for is to take salary cuts, make contributions to their health care plans, and allow the district to make changes to seniority rules regarding teacher placement.
While both sides continue to negotiate, it would appear that they are still far apart despite the willingness to give on wages and health care on the part of the teachers.
“We are asking the PFT to join the approximately 3,000 School District employees who are making significant contributions to help address the District’s financial challenges through salary reductions and by making reasonable contributions to their health insurance costs,” School District spokesman Fernando Gallard said in a statement. “The current offer from the PFT falls far short of the $103 million in recurring savings our students need and does not include necessary educational reforms.
PFT President Jerry Jordan said in a statement last week that he would present a package to his members that included a wage freeze and health care contribution changes, but the key word in that sentence is “package”, said PFT spokesman George Jackson.
PHOTO: PFT President Jerry Jordan
“Those things haven’t been finalized,” Jackson said. “If those things are recommended to members, it would have to be as part of a tentative agreement and there is no tentative agreement now. We’ll have to see how things play out.”
As for what else teachers are being asked to give up, the PFT is crying foul, Jackson said.
“Because of the cutbacks, the schools are less safe and less efficient,” he said. “We’re working to reinstate those positions because the cutbacks were draconian. The district has offered nothing to us in return. They want to balance the budget on the backs of our members.”
Meanwhile, anxious parents are hoping that someone will give them news…and bring them, the people with the most to lose, to the table.
“What the teachers are concerned about and what the district is concerned about are different than what the parents are concerned about,” Wright said. “We’re concerned about the safety and development of our kids. We should be part of the discussion.”
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