Unionized teachers with the School District of Philadelphia have voted overwhelmingly to approve a contract agreement. The deal, which was approved by 95% of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) union, includes retroactive pay and salary increases. Teachers cheered the vote results but many question where the money will come from.
The $395.0-million deal includes lump-sum payments and percentage bumps in salary for the over-11,000 members of the PFT, the largest union in the city. Salary increases are also being awarded based on years of experience and university/college degree levels. The contract lasts until August 2020.
By the end of the new contract, new teachers with no advanced degrees will make $46,267 (compared to the current $45,360), and top-paid teachers would make $91,852 (compared to the current $90,051).
“We are really, really pleased about the agreement,” said PFT President Jerry Jordan after a general membership meeting at the Liacouras Center of Temple University.
The union celebrated, but politicians say there is no way to pay for the generous pay increases.
Republicans who control both Harrisburg legislative chambers are unwilling to help foot the bill, which is a whopping $245.0 million more than the cash-strapped district has budgeted.
The district already faces a deficit of $138.0 million. With the contract, the projected deficit will soar from $700.0 million to almost $1.0 billion over five years.
One sourcessaid that the deal could lead to teacher layoffs. Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans, said of the deal, that “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.”
“I can’t fathom the school board signing a deal that they fundamentally know that they can’t pay for. It’s perplexing,” said Drew Crompton, the top lawyer for Senate Republicans.
To pay for the pay hikes, the district is likely going to have to place the burden on local residents by either hiking property taxes by 16% or by laying off teachers.
But, back in February, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said he would not raise taxes in the coming year.
And to keep the city’s budget in order, City Commissioner Bill Green warned that the new contract could result in as many as 800 layoffs in September 2018 and an additional 3,500 in September 2019.
In the meantime, as part of a broader five-year plan, Superintendent Willian Hite has recommended closing three schools a year, beginning in 2019, due to a drop in enrolment numbers and a greater number of students transferring to charter schools.
Roughly one-third of students in the area attend charter schools. This makes up the largest fixed expenditure in the district’s budget, accounting for over $800.0 million in 2018 and increasing to approximately $900.0 million in 2019. District run school expenditures are projected to be $1.47 billion in 2018 and $1.5 billion in 2019.
“Philly teachers OK new contract; now, how to pay for it?,” The Inquirer Daily News, June 19, 2017.
“Philadelphia’s school budget picture remains bleak despite surplus,” Philadelphia Public School Notebook, March 23, 2017.
“Kenney promises: No new taxes,” The Inquirer Daily News, February 3, 2017.