PHILADELPHIA By an overwhelming margin, Philadelphia's school principals agreed Monday to steep pay cuts and other concessions, concluding that they had no choice but to save the Philadelphia School District $20 million.
"There's not a cavalry coming," union president Robert McGrogan said. "With a new fiscal year on our doorstep, we needed to do something to help right the district. We've ratified a contract, but we're hardly celebrating."
The three-year contract, which the 500 members of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators ratified by 83 percent to 17 percent, will cut their pay considerably - by more than $20,000 annually. They will also work a shorter school year.
The workers will also begin contributing toward benefits for the first time - they will pay 7 percent this year, and 8 percent beginning in 2015 - and agreed to major changes in work rules, including allowing the district to use factors other than seniority in layoffs and recalls.
A performance-based compensation system will replace "step" increases, and only those employees rated "proficient" or "distinguished" will be eligible for pay bumps.
Principals and other administrators have, for the last few years, been year-round employees. They will shift to working 10 months under the terms of the new contract.
Principals and assistant principals will take pay cuts of 12 percent to 17 percent. Principals now make $124,000 to $149,000, and that will change to $97,000 to $124,000. Assistant principals are paid $106,000 to $133,000, and that will be reduced to $88,000 to $110,000. Although the contract is retroactive to Sept. 1, the principals will begin seeing the pay cuts in their next paycheck.
Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., in a statement, praised the principals and acknowledged the hardships the district's money woes have caused them.
"This contract ratification is another example of their commitment to putting students' needs first," Hite said.
With its major concessions, the principals' contract could have serious implications for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the much larger union, whose pact is still being negotiated.
District officials, facing the unprecedented fiscal crisis, have budgeted $130 million in savings over five years from unionized workers, including the principals' union and PFT.
They have also said the School Reform Commission is willing to invoke its special powers to impose terms on unions if negotiations yield nothing.
McGrogan said that most of his members realized what became apparent to him at the negotiation table: Imposition was more than a threat.
"If nothing else, this keeps us from contesting anything they might try to impose on us," he said. If the SRC were to force a contract on the union, that action would result in a court battle.
With health care contributions and pay loss, members will see about $1,000 less in each biweekly paycheck, McGrogan said, and that comes as they cope with schools reeling from deep cuts in staff and programs.
"We're dealing with these conditions every day, and they're not barely adequate - they're less than adequate," McGrogan said. "We're seeing smaller paychecks, and I still don't see a secretary, a school nurse, a counselor, a school operations officer in every school."
McGrogan declined to speculate on what the principals' contract might mean for the PFT, and PFT president Jerry Jordan had no comment.
But in a letter to his members sent after CASA had a tentative deal, Jordan was unequivocal: The principals' deal "in no way impacts the decisions the PFT negotiating team makes at the bargaining table."
Jordan also said that the CASA agreement does not set the timetable for PFT talks. The teachers' last contract, like CASA's, expired in August.
"I must once again emphasize how difficult it is to negotiate a contract when the School District is facing a $400 million deficit for 2014-15. This is the direst financial crisis our schools have ever faced. It is why the district has not backed away from any of their proposals, including reducing the salaries of PFT members," Jordan wrote to his members.
But, Jordan said, he has not budged, either: "We are willing to negotiate many contract provisions, but our members will not accept a pay cut."
The district wants teachers to accept a longer school day, among many other work rule changes.
The PFT has scheduled a general membership meeting for Wednesday night.
Both PFT and CASA have said that in addition to negotiating new contracts, the district - and its workers - must push for a better way of funding schools. That issue will be key in this year's governor's race.
"My members vote," McGrogan said, "and we're keeping score on those politicians that are and are not in favor of public schools."