IT'S EASY to accept the School District's assertion that it has made a fair contract offer to Philly's educators - if you don't look too closely at the numbers behind the proposals.
Let's begin with the biggest number: $150 million. Yes, that's a lot of money. It's how much the district says it offered to the 11,500 teachers and non-instructional personnel.
The Daily News reported the fact that the offer represents a 4 percent raise for teachers. But this raise would affect only those teachers who qualify for step increases - about half of all Philly teachers. The Daily News' March 20 editorial omits the fact that teachers with 11 or more years' experience would not get this raise, and completely disregards the thousands of school secretaries, paraprofessionals and other noninstructional personnel represented by the PFT also excluded from this increase.
The PFT doesn't have the luxury of focusing only on the 8,625 members who are classroom teachers. The PFT recognizes that everyone working in a school does critical work for Philly's children. That's why we are committed to getting a fair contract for all our members.
The district's proposal would be insulting even if we were concerned only with classroom teachers. The average teacher salary in Philadelphia is $69,735. In Lower Merion, it's $95,292. The number is $86,670 in Cheltenham and $80,832 in Bensalem. The district's offer doesn't come close to putting our teachers' pay on par with what teachers make in surrounding counties. These suburban districts also provide salary incentives for teachers who earn advanced degrees in their field, a provision the district wants removed.
Factor in other perks - such as tuition reimbursement; reasonable budgets for classroom supplies; working, lead-free drinking fountains; and newer, more modern school buildings are standard in other districts - and it becomes easy to see why our district feels compelled to use expensive ad campaigns to attempt to recruit educators to Philadelphia.
Any lack of progress in negotiations cannot be laid at the feet of the PFT or its members. Philly's educators have endured the indignity of five years without a raise, while continuing to provide programs and services to schoolchildren.
The editorial correctly points out that the PFT has invested energy into working with elected leaders at the state and local level. But to classify these activities as a "rope-a-dope" is incorrect and shortsighted. Our political efforts are designed to secure more state funding for public education, fighting against bills that divert money from traditional public schools and supporting initiatives that fund programs like community schools and pre-K expansion for children.
Our fight for a fair contract is part of the fight for better Philly schools. Class-size limits, water fountains and having at least one counselor in every school ensure educators and students are provided with suitable teaching and learning conditions.
It's been over 1,300 days since the expiration of our last contract. Morale among Philly's educators is at an all-time low. They have made it clear that they want a new contract, but they will not vote to accept an unfair proposal.
The best way to show our members the respect they deserve is to present them with an offer that is good for children and fair to the educators.
Jerry Jordan is the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers