Inquirer editorial: Philly teachers union should allow members to consider district's contract offer

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan

There is no denying that school teachers have one of the most important and difficult jobs. In general, teachers are often underappreciated and not well compensated.

In Philadelphia, public school teachers have had a particularly difficult time. Years of financial turmoil have resulted in staffing cuts and a lack of basic resources. To top it off, the city's teachers have been working without a contract for three years. Clearly, they deserve a raise and a fair contract.

Finally, a good contract offer appears to be on the table. If anything, it is more than fair. The Philadelphia School District has offered teachers a $100 million deal over four years, staff writer Kristen A. Graham reports.

The deal is said to include step raises based on years of experience, ranging from 5 to 8 percent, which would take effect on Jan. 1. In addition, teachers at the top of the pay scale would receive an additional 2.5 percent raise in January; a 1 percent increase in September; and 0.5 percent increases in 2018 and 2019.

That means over the next nine months, some teachers would see their salaries increase by 11.5 percent. The deal also includes incentive bonuses for teachers assigned to challenging schools that are hard to staff.

In return, the deal would codify existing work-rule changes and require teachers to do what many workers have been doing for years: contribute toward their health-care costs. How much teachers would contribute was unclear, but it is unlikely to be anywhere near what workers pay in the private sector.

The average annual premium for employee-sponsored family health coverage nationally is $18,142 this year, with workers paying about $5,277 toward that cost, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Premiums increased an average of 3 percent, which was in line with the average increase in workers' wages, according to Kaiser.

Despite the district's generous offer, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers head Jerry Jordan said he wouldn't take it to his members. He wants the district to compensate teachers for the years they went without raises. That seems like a bridge too far.

To his credit, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. is trying to strike the right balance in offering a contract that recognizes teachers' hard work while not plunging the district back into a financial crisis.

Even though the district's finances have stabilized, officials still project a $500 million deficit by 2021. That does not include the additional cost of the teachers' contract.

Negotiations going forward must consider the current political climate. President-elect Trump has said little about education, but he has discussed shrinking the Department of Education. He also favors giving parents more school choice, including vouchers, charter schools, and magnet schools, as does his nominee for education secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos.

Meanwhile, the state and city - which did increase funding for Philadelphia's public schools in recent years - have made clear that additional money is not likely to be available.

The district has made teachers a fair offer. Their union should allow its members to consider it.

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