'Deep concerns' from state senator over proposed city teachers' contract

State Senator Vincent Hughes. Photo by Elwoood P Smith

Safe to say that state Senator Vincent Hughes is steamed.

In a sharply-worded letter to SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos, Hughes (D., Phila.,) expressed “deep concerns” over the Philadelphia School District’s recent opening contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Hughes' bottom line?  Don't ask 15,000 teachers and others to sacrifice when you're not demanding Gov. Corbett pay his fair share.

The district has said it needs up to $180 million annually in givebacks from its unions, and recently demanded from teachers deep wage cuts, steep benefits contributions and an end to seniority. Doing that while not asking Gov. Corbett for more money is “inexcusable and an act of hyprocrisy,” Hughes wrote.

Yes, Hughes said, the district is nearing insolvency, having recently borrowed $300 million just to pay bills through the end of this school year.  But the governor has shorted Philadelphia schools by more than that over the past two years, and the SRC has not made nearly enough of a fuss about it, Hughes said.

But how receptive would a Republican governor likely be to even the strongest demands from Ramos and the district?

“I don’t give a damn how receptive he is,” Hughes said in an interview Monday. 

“At some point, the leader has got to acknowledge the fact that this is a problem.  The difficulty is that when you’re silent on boldly and aggressively seeking more dollars from Harrisburg — from the governor specifically — then that makes all of your other issues suspect.”

Some contractual changes need to be made, Hughes acknowledged.  Last year, the district’s blue-collar workers, most of whom make less than $40,000 annually, all agreed to givebacks.

But the district’s first proposal to the PFT “will threaten the economic security of thousands of middle income families in Philadelphia, and is not the direction in which our city should be going economically."

Read Hughes' full letter here.

Ramos is drafting a reply to Hughes, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

That response will remind Hughes that “the new SRC has made a conscious, unanimous decision not to project revenue that it cannot reasonably rely on receving,” Gallard said. Prior administrations’ practice of budgeting money that was not promised “is what resulted in the financial gaps of the past, which we are paying for now.”

The SRC has made it clear to the senator, Gallard said, “that it is the SRC’s and district’s intention to increase advocacy efforts in Harrisburg and City Hall, specifically to ask for more revenue that would allow it to secure long-term sustainability.”