Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

District wants up to 13% salary cut, other big changes

It's going to be a long summer.

District wants up to 13% salary cut, other big changes

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan along with Quanisha Smith of Action Now (left) and Anne Gemmell of Fight for Philly respond to Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite´s action plan in front of Philadelphia School District Headquarters. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer )
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan along with Quanisha Smith of Action Now (left) and Anne Gemmell of Fight for Philly respond to Philadelphia School Superintendent William Hite's action plan in front of Philadelphia School District Headquarters. ( RON TARVER / Staff Photographer )

It's going to be a long summer.

The Philadelphia School District wants its teachers to lengthen their workdays, give back up to 13 perent of their salaries, and forego pay raises at least until 2017. It wants to reduce the money paid out to departing employees, weaken seniority and give principals full authority over hiring and firing teachers.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials on Tuesday confirmed some details of the district’s initial contract proposal, which the Inquirer has obtained. School officials have been saying for months that they need up to $180 million in labor givebacks annually to avert a five-year deficit of more than $1 billion.

The teachers' contract expires in August.

“These are not demands that my members would support, nor would they ratify them,” Jordan said in an interview. “And these demands clearly indicate that the district does not have an interest in attracting and retaining teachers.

Teachers who have experience will certainly leave to go to other districts, where they will be compensated fairly for what they do.”

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said he could not comment on ongoing labor talks, but said that the school system “actually values teachers as the most important resource in our district. We are committed to providing teachers with a set of working conditions…that will actually in the long run make Philadelphia a place that people will want to come and work.”

Under the district’s opening proposal, issued Friday, the PFT’s 15,000 members — 10,000 teachers, plus nurses, counselors, secretaries, aides and others — would take pay cuts ranging from 5 percent for those who make under $25,000 to 13 percent for those who make over $55,000.

On top of the smaller paychecks, employees would also have longer workdays. Teachers, whose current official workday is just over seven hours, would be required to be at work for eight hours.

The district is also seeking massive changes to how teachers are assigned and to the strict rules that govern the work they’re asked to perform outside of their regular classroom duties. Seniority now determines how many teachers get jobs; under the district’s new proposal, principals would have the authority to hire and move teachers. (Teachers would still be eligible for due process in firings.)

Principals would also be able to assign teachers to tasks like hall monitoring and lunch duty at will. Currently, teachers’ time is carefully governed by union rules.

Now, the top-paid tier of educators are considered “senior career teachers” — those with 10 years of experience or more, plus other qualifications. That category would disappear. (A senior career teacher makes about $90,000.)

Instead of being paid at their daily rate for unused personal leave, employees who retire or leave for another job would earn a flat $160 per day.

And the district would retain the right to outsource any job.

When he first heard the district’s demands, PFT President Jerry Jordan, said he was incredulous.

“I thought it was a joke,” Jordan said.

His members’ household bills have been getting bigger, and they are already earning less and working in more challenging circumstances than their counterparts in suburban districts, he said.

Jordan also scorned the attempt to give principals more say in assigning teachers. “Another example of the district’s overall plan to command and control teachers and other employees — you see nothing that addresses teaching and learning and making schools better for kids.”

Kihn said the district’s aim was actually to treat teachers as professionals, and to “make sure that we have the right teachers with the right sets of students, and make sure that we’re rewarding and retaining our most effective teachers.”

Though the contract is important, “we are overall and in parallel working on a set of initiatives to try to improve the quality of teachers’ experiences,” Kihn said.

Kihn stressed that the fiscal situation is grim, and pointed to concessions by other unions and pay cuts recently taken by non-unionized employees. Those cuts, however, were less than what the district is asking from the PFT.

“This is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances,” Kihn said. The financial part of the district’s request “should come as no surprise.”

Talks are in the earliest stages. But the demands are huge, and could spur a flurry of retirements and departures from the PFT’s ranks.

That’s crucial to a system preparing to close 29 schools and hand three more over to charters. District officials have said they don’t believe they’ll need to lay off teachers — though other employees will be let go — and high numbers of retirements and other departures are key to that calculus.

About this blog

Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham writes the Philly School Files blog, where she covers education in Philadelphia, both in and out of the classroom.

During the school year, you’ll frequently find her hosting live chats about the district on Philly.com.

Please do pass along the scoop about what’s going on at your Philadelphia public school; Kristen welcomes tips, story ideas and witty banter.


Kristen Graham Inquirer Staff Writer
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