In August the contract that the Philadelphia School District has with the PFT (Philadelphia Federation of Teachers) will expire. The contract covers 10,000 teachers and 5,000 nurses, secretaries, counselors as well as other support staff.
This week Superintendent Dr. William Hite put the writing on the chalkboard or, in the case of the Philadelphia schools, on the smart board. Hite announced that once contract negotiations begin he intends on getting teachers that make over $55,000 per year take a 13% pay cut, eliminate senior-based jobs, and increase the work day from the current seven hours to eight hours. Anyone who makes less than $55,000 may see a 5% pay cut.
The superintendent also wants to cut any raises for five years, eliminate the Health and Welfare Fund, make the employees pay for some of their benefits, have the option of transferring teachers whenever the district feels like it, give the principals the power to hire, fire or lay off employees, eliminate their commitment to provide supplies to the schools, lay off almost all of the librarians, get rid of the teachers’ lounges, cut some benefits entirely, eliminate higher salaries based on advanced degrees like having a master’s, and get rid of step increases.
Step increases are raises that school district employees automatically get after they pass the anniversary date of when they were hired. In the Philadelphia School District employees usually get two raises a year. One is the step increase and the other is a cost of living raise. Depending on the contract, they may even get a third raise. Step increases are costly and drain needed resources from the district’s budget.
Hite also wants to have an adequate number of textbooks. Although he’s saying that he’s not going to increase classroom size if he eliminates classroom caps, which is what he wants to do, they will increase especially if he gets his way and closes 29 schools.
All of the steps that Hite wants to take are based on the recommendations of the Boston Consulting Group which was hired by the school district in 2012 and paid $1.4 million by the William Penn Foundation.
The teachers are upset. They believe that Hite is trying to get rid of teachers with seniority and have no respect for what they do. The superintendent doesn’t agree with the teachers. He feels that the teachers are professionals and should be treated as such. PFT President Jerry Jordan takes exception to Hite’s professional statement. Jordan feels that what the superintendent is saying is a lot of things, but being professional isn’t one of them.
As bad as people may want to feel for the plight of the teachers, you have to look at the bigger picture. The school district is broke and they had to borrow $300 million just to get through to June. A lot of people except the teachers have made sacrifices for the school district. Thousands of people have been laid off; parents had to make sacrifices as well as the students. All of these sacrifices were made so teachers, some of them being incompetent, didn’t lose their jobs.
It’s time for the teachers to step up to the plate and be willing to make certain sacrifices in order for the district to do what it’s supposed to do: educate children. They don’t have to necessarily make all the sacrifices that Hite has suggested, but they have to make some.