PFT Holds Line At Salary Cuts, District Says It's Not Enough

PFT Holds Line At Salary Cuts, District Says It's Not Enough

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The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says it's willing to propose to its members at least a one-year wage-freeze and changes to healthcare benefit contributions.

But the union is standing firmly against salary cuts called for by school district leadership.

Contract negotiations that began in January between the union and school district continue. The current deal expires Saturday.

"We've reached a perilous juncture on the road to opening our schools safely and operationally on Sept. 9," PFT President Jerry Jordan said at a news conference called Wednesday morning. "This is a point we've been making to the district and the public since June, when the layoffs of 3,859 school employees occurred."

"We know that at the current staffing levels the school district cannot assure parents, students and employees that schools will be safe and more than just functional," Jordan added. "… Every child deserves to have teachers in the school, in the classroom. They do not deserve to have over-crowded classrooms. They do not need to be in split classes."

The PFT will hold a meeting Monday night at Temple University's Liacouras Center so its 15,000 members can consider and vote on a plan recommended by its leadership.

Jordan said the union's concessions would mean millions of dollars in savings, but he could not be more specific.

Schools Superintendent Dr. William Hite has said that he needs the teachers to agree to salary cuts and increased health insurance contributions worth a combined $103 million – double what he got from the city.

Another $30 million in savings is needed from other employee groups.

Hite's figure included teachers who make more than $55,000 taking a 13-percent paycut.

The school district says the PFT proposal laid out Wednesday doesn't make the grade.

"We have asked for $103 million in recurring savings from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and their announcement today, while lacking in specifics, appears to fall well short of that amount," district spokesman Fernando A. Gallard said. "We clearly have a ways to go on both economics as well as on important educational reforms that will provide the type of learning environments our children deserve."

Mayor Michael Nutter issued a statement acknowledging that the union "publicly recognized that it must play a role in helping the Philadelphia School District and its thousands of students and parents to get through this huge fiscal crisis."

But Nutter said he's told state leaders that a new funding formula is necessary for Philly and other districts across the state, and he said the union's announcement "lacks any detail."

"More to the point, it appears to be very far from the work rule changes and $103 million in savings that the District needs," Nutter said.

The mayor added, "I'm disappointed that teachers' union leaders, who profess concern for the city's school children, were silent on the critical changes in staffing flexibility and related work rules that are vital if District schools are to become more competitive with other schools by being more welcoming, safe and academically effective."

Likewise, the activist group Philadelphia Schools Partnership called PFT's announcement encouraging but said this isn't "just a fiscal crisis."

"It's an education crisis, and much more is needed," the group said. "In many schools, the likelihood of students ultimately graduating from college is only one in 10. Without real reforms, Philadelphia will only prop up a system that has under-served poor and minority students for decades."

The partnership added that the district's forced-transfer policy assigns teachers to schools based solely on seniority but needs to move toward "mutual consent" to reduce turnover and improve staffing efficiency.

"We hope today's announcement by the PFT is the beginning of a serious conversation about the total package of solutions that will make schools better places to both work and learn in Philadelphia," the partnership says. "Our children deserve nothing less."

The teachers' union, with support from the American Federation of Teachers, has been airing ads critical of Nutter and his handling of the school budget crisis.

The ad campaign accuses the mayor of siding with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett.

Nutter already responded to the ads by calling them a distraction from the real issues.

Jordan countered by saying, "The next positive step would be for the mayor to re-direct his frustration away from Philadelphia's teachers and the parents who support them, and call out Governor Corbett, who is ultimately responsible for our schools' fiscal crisis."

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