Philadelphia teachers protest pay cut demands

PHILADELPHIA Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:23pm EDT

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PHILADELPHIA Aug 22 (Reuters) - Hundreds of teachers in Philadelphia voiced their outrage on Thursday at proposed pay and benefit cuts as public school officials demanded $133 million in concessions from employees because of a financial crisis.

With the teachers' labor contract due to expire on Aug. 31 and school set to start about a week after that, the district and union leaders are still far apart on terms, according to George Jackson, spokesman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Teachers are being asked to take salary cuts of between 5 and 13 percent next year and to pay more for health coverage.

More than 200 teachers held a march and then rallied outside the school board offices on Thursday to protest the demands.

Teacher Darcel McClen expressed disappointment that she has had to spend $1,000 of her own money on classroom supplies and taught 30 kindergartners without a classroom aide last year.

McClen, who took a pay cut to switch careers and become a teacher nine years ago, makes about $56,000 a year and is facing a 13 percent pay cut.

"It's like we're not appreciated," she said. "It's an awful feeling."

Scott Knoflicek, a middle school science teacher protesting with his two young daughters in tow, said he goes dumpster diving for the bottles, cans, furniture and other supplies he needs to teach his lab classes.

Because of the budget crisis driven by a weak economy and falling enrollment in traditional schools, the school district had to shutter 30 schools over the past two years. In June, it laid off about 3,800 teachers, assistant principals, aides and other staffers to close a $304 million shortfall. Pension benefits are set at by the state and are not an issue in the local negotiations.

The long-brewing financial crisis for Philadelphia's school system reached a crescendo earlier this month when Superintendent William Hite threatened to delay the start of the school year because the district had so few remaining employees.

A last-minute $50 million loan from the city is expected to allow Hite to rehire about 1,000 employees and allow the schools to reopen on-time on Sept. 9.

STUDENTS FLEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Urban school systems across the United States have been hammered by reductions in state aid since the 2007-09 recession. In many states, the level of aid still hasn't returned to pre-recession levels.

The rapid growth of charter schools has compounded the problem, as students flee traditional public school systems and take a share of state funds with them.

Philadelphia has hemorrhaged students. In 2008, just 16 percent of pupils were enrolled in charter schools. But for the 2013-2014 school year, about 62,000 - or more than a third - of Philadelphia's 198,000 students will attend one of about 80 charter schools, according to Moody's Investors Service.

When school starts, Philadelphia will have about 134,000 students in 212 public schools, according to Fernando Gallard, spokesman for the district.

"We are at the (negotiating) table every day," he said. "We hope it's a positive result." He declined to provide further details on the status of talks.

Jackson, the teachers' union spokesman, would not say whether members were prepared to strike if no agreement is reached.

"We're planning to continue negotiations and work toward a contract that's good for the our schools, our students, our members and the school district," he said.

In Chicago, teachers walked off the job for eight days at the start of the school year in 2012. It was the city's first teachers' strike in a quarter of a century, spurred on by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's drive for sweeping education reforms as their contract was about to run out.

Pennsylvania has played a role in overseeing Philadelphia's school district since 2001, when the state established a school reform commission (SRC) for the district. Three of its five members are appointed by the governor and two others by the mayor, with no elected members.

The city has a population of about 1.5 million, down from a peak of more than 2 million in the 1950s. Its median family income of about $37,000 is well below the state and national average.

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Comments (20)
Syanis wrote:
Didn’t get a classroom aid? Haha! So now to teach 30 young kids need 2 teacher’s while 1 is just an assistant? Many teacher’s around the world do without that. Also she didn’t HAVE to spend $1k in her own money, she just chose to willingly. While its great she did it for the kids she can’t b*tch about her choice. If she feels to many kids and to much pressure maybe she should be pushing to make sure only Citizens and children of legal immigrants get into our public schools. Or learn to do w/o aides.

But damn $56k a year is nice especially with a pension and still nice healthcare package. I know many private sector educated and skilled people getting a lot less.

Aug 22, 2013 9:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
batia wrote:
It is interesting that people complain about teachers, firefighters, first responders…..many of which give tons of service…..and expect them to do more and more with less and less. You can’t have a balanced budget and pay for what our kids need if you keep giving tax breaks to the 1% who don’t need them….you are just taking away from our children and giving it to those who will only want more…but don’t serve like the teachers and first responders….they only keep the money and ship jobs overseas…

Aug 22, 2013 10:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
2BFRanklin0 wrote:
Welcome to the real world.

Aug 22, 2013 10:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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