Inquirer Editorial: Money isn't everything
One silver lining of the crisis that Philadelphia's schools have been staggering through has to be the activism it has generated for the proper education of the city's children.
Grassroots groups like Action United, Fight for Philly, the Philadelphia Student Union, the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, and Parent Power may not agree on everything, but they all want the schools to be adequately funded and equipped.
What the education advocates must guard against, however, is being lured into believing that the inadequate funding being provided not only to this city's schools, but to districts across the state, is their only problem. Other reforms are necessary for the schools to improve.
It is important for everyone who wants the city's schoolchildren to succeed to consider the source when city teachers' union leader Jerry Jordan says, "Parents of Philadelphia public school students are far more concerned with the lack of resources available to their children than they are with work rules for school staff."
Parents who want their children to have a better education are concerned about every aspect of the learning process, including funding, staffing, supplies, environment, safety, and work rules.
Jordan wants the School Reform Commission to keep using seniority as the primary basis for layoffs and recalls, but there is much evidence that the best teachers aren't always those with the most years of service. A veteran teacher may be head and shoulders above a less experienced teacher in the classroom, but too many aren't.
The SRC announced Monday that rather than focusing on seniority, it would move on to other issues in its continuing contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. But that doesn't mean the issue is dead. The SRC reportedly has been considering whether to end seniority unilaterally under a provision of the 2001 law that allowed the state to take over the district.
If that happens, or if proposed state legislation ends seniority, Gov. Corbett may decide to release the $45 million he has promised the city's schools on the condition that their unions agree to such changes. Still facing a $220 million deficit, the district needs the state money, as well as the $103 million in savings it wants the PFT to provide.
It would be better for all parties if the district continued to negotiate seniority and other rule changes with the PFT. A unilateral end to seniority rules could bring back the days when the budget-challenged district was accused of laying off higher-paid, veteran teachers just to save money.
Trust is typically lacking in the contract negotiations. Jordan shouldn't have suggested that better funding is all the schools need to improve, or that making seniority rules more flexible would automatically lead to abuse. But neither should the SRC act as if safeguards against arbitrary dismissals aren't necessary.
The education advocacy groups can play a useful role by unifying to push the PFT and SRC away from their traditional animosity so that the schools can get more funds, and students the best teachers.