Congratulations are due the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for finally ending a four-year stalemate and agreeing on a new contract.
But don’t spend too much time celebrating the deal approved Tuesday by the School Reform Commission because the document won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if there’s no money to pay for the $202.6 million pact, effective until August 2020.
And right now, there isn’t.
“We will be at the state’s door, knocking on the door, asking them to meet us, help us meet this obligation,” City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said Monday. “I don’t know how that will play out, but we’re hoping.”
Hope springs eternal is an old saying, but whoever said it never had any dealings with the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature, which has already signaled it has a closed mind when it comes to giving any more money to Philadelphia schools.
“It makes it very difficult to take any request from Philadelphia seriously when they do nothing that appears to help themselves – and then they negotiate a contract which they admit is based on fantasy,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.
That ridiculous statement ignores the additional $70 million the city began giving the School District two years ago, the $100 million in reduced interest costs the district achieved by refinancing its debt, the closure of 24 schools, and the decimation of the central office staff and other layoffs that were made to make ends meet.
The last thing state legislators ought to do is talk about someone else shirking their responsibility to properly fund schools. Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in funding public education. That may be OK for affluent districts that can afford to fill the gap, but it’s not good for most districts, especially Philadelphia’s.
That said, the city must be realistic about the likelihood of the Republicans running Harrisburg agreeing to help pay for the new PFT contract. It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. And Democrat Gov. Wolf’s track record suggests he won’t be able to get the Republicans to move very far, if at all.
So, instead of hoping that somehow Harrisburg will come through with more cash, all those city officials hailing the new PFT contract need to start figuring out how they will fund the deal if that doesn’t happen.
Mayor Kenney didn’t include a dime more for schools in this year’s city budget, instead successfully lobbying for a soda tax to fund pre-kindergarten expansion and pay for needed infrastructure improvements.
Kenney and Clarke are going to have to put their heads together and figure out what more the city can do. And that doesn’t have to mean another tax. The city’s children are worth taking another look at budgeted spending that might be redirected.
Philadelphia can’t wait on myopic state legislators to act responsibly. City officials can’t just point out what they have already done. The School District was facing a structural deficit before the PFT contract was negotiated. But that deal has turned up the heat to find a solution.