To combat a brutal, deficit-plagued balance sheet, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission has unilaterally canceled the current contract negotiated by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers union.
The city officially canceled the contract on Monday morning, Philadelphia ABC affiliate WPVI reports.
The contract cancellation will not reduce teachers’ salaries one iota. Going forward, however, teachers (and some retirees) will be asked to fund part of their own health coverage. Specifically, starting in December they will be asked to pay between $21 and $200 each month for coverage.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has endorsed the new plan. The whole Commission plan will save $54 million this school year alone and up to $70 million in later years, officials say.
“Principals and janitors alike have taken pay cuts over the last two years. They have already agreed to similar healthcare benefit changes,” Nutter, a Democrat, told WPVI. “I support this and hope others can see it for what it is: Another consequence of this horrible situation our schools have had to face year after year.”
Teachers and their union representatives are livid at the prospect of partially contributing toward their own benefits. It’s just not fair, they say, and they’re not sure if they’ll be able to endure a cut in free perks.
“I guess we have a lot thinking to do about whether we can afford to continue to live here,” Sonya Brintnall, a speech language pathologist in a two-teacher marriage, told the station.
“I hate to leave. I really love living in Philadelphia. But my kids both go to Philadelphia public schools and I was so saddened this year looking at the buildings, with broken stairways, broken windows,” Brintnall added.
Physical education teacher Tim Baran lamented that teachers have had to buy supplies because the school district is completely broke — and now this!
Jerry Jordan, the president of Philadelphia’s teachers union, called the contract cancellation “cowardly” and swore to litigate hastily.
“I am taking nothing off the table,” the union leader threatened, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
“We are not indentured servants,” he added.
The average teacher’s salary in Philadelphia is $58,000, according to job-search website Indeed.com. By comparison, the average salary for an American plumber is $52,390, according to federal statistics. It’s $39,820 for locksmiths and $25,120 for bakers.
School Reform Commission defended the unilateral action, citing the union’s “refusal to negotiate meaningfully for almost two years.”
“In the 21st century, it becomes increasingly untenable that folks aren’t paying something for their health-care coverage and for a variety of other benefits,” Mayor Nutter said, according to the Inquirer. “At the moment, those are the only other additional dollars that are available to the school district.”
Despite the contract cancellation and a slew of layoffs and school closings, Philadelphia’s public schools are still staring at an $8 million deficit this year and a $70 million for next year.
A state law prevents public school teachers in Philadelphia from going on strike. If the teachers union were to go on strike, teachers could lose their state certifications.