In Response to the PFT Proposal

Teacher Action Group commends the PFT for this moment of transparency in their negotiating progress. We are also open to the possible givebacks mentioned so far — a freeze on across-the-board salary increases, plus a willingness to “make changes to our health care and benefits.” We welcome and encourage further communications from union leadership in addition to membership feedback as this process resolves.

As teachers in Philadelphia, we are most concerned about working in not just functional, but stable and supported school environments. Our schools need to be fully staffed and prepared to meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs on the first day of school. To these ends, we believe that all staff laid off last June should be restored, ideally to the communities and environments that they helped build.

We would also like to help clarify a common misunderstanding about the PFT’s proposed concession on salary increases – the proposal suggests that members will forgo the possibility of an across-the-board raise, not that they will forgo the “step” raises many of them receive each year commensurate with their years of service.

We support the PFT’s protection of teacher salaries. Gutting the wages of this city’s educators–teachers, administrators, and other professionals–provides the school district with a quick fix it absolutely cannot afford in the long run. As has already been frequently reported, Philadelphia teachers make 19% less than their immediate suburban counterparts. Quite simply, the city cannot decrease salaries and expect its workforce to stick around.

This summer has been a painful preview of what could become a permanent reality in Philadelphia. Students and parents, despite their constant protests, have been sent the message that local and state legislatures are not supporting their futures. Some of the most talented members of our workforce have already been turned into professional refugees, scurrying out of the city for jobs that acknowledge their abilities with commensurate pay and respect. Many with secure positions have also seen the writing on the wall and moved to schools in the suburbs. Teachers who remain are torn between the desire to help their schools get ready to open and the injustice of doing the work of laid-off staff. The city itself has attracted negative attention as a formerly vibrant place in decline.

Unfortunately, both the SDP and the PA Department of Education have already rejected the PFT’s current proposal as insufficient. That Governor Corbett’s administration has forsaken Philadelphia and its schools is undeniable. But why have city leaders allowed the shortcomings of the state to fall on the backs of our teachers? The members of the PFT cannot carry the financial burden and also provide the high quality, competitive education Philadelphia students deserve — nor should they be expected to.

The stakes are too high for this contract negotiation to be shrouded in secrecy. By sharing the terms of their current proposal, the PFT keeps the membership and the general public informed, and allows the Philadelphia community to work together against the incredible forces that threaten the future of our city. The union should continue to be responsive, open, and vocal in this moment of crisis.