Intrepid reporter Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer unearthed several details from contract negotiations between the school district of Philadelphia and the local teachers’ union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). Currently, the district is operating under the most recent labor contract, which expired three years ago. Per Graham, the district proposed a $100 million offer—despite facing a $500 million shortfall by 2021:
The deal would include restoration of “step” increases, or pay bumps for years of experience. It would also include incentive bonuses over the life of the four-year pact for teachers in hard-to-staff schools, and it would give raises to teachers now at the top of the pay scale, according to sources familiar with the talks.
For union leaders, health care concessions have long been a sticking point:
The deal on the table would also require teachers to begin contributing toward their health-care costs. They do not currently pay toward those premiums.
That the district insists on teachers paying something toward health premiums is promising. These contributions are commonplace in the private sector and among public employees.
Notably, the district prefers to fill teacher vacancies with the best available candidates, not simply the teacher with the most seniority. This irks PFT President Jerry Jordan:
All future teacher vacancies would be filled by “site selection” rather than seniority, giving principals and school communities the power to hire candidates based on fit rather than be forced to accept them based just on experience.
Jordan called that proposal “very disrespectful to members.” Now, principals can remove teachers from buildings not for performance, but for “compelling reasons,” a practice he said sometimes results in unfair treatment.
Hite said that universal site selection has generated real improvements in schools and that it would be better to put processes in place to deal with potential unfair treatment than to scrap the system.
How strange that an organization billing itself as serving students’ best interests would defy reforms that staff classrooms with the most qualified candidates. Nevertheless, the union is not responding warmly to the district’s offer. Jordan says he will not even take it to his members for consideration.
Where do negotiations go from here? It’s difficult to predict. Graham quotes a source who described the union’s counter-offer as “fiscally irresponsible and completely unworkable,” which doesn’t instill confidence in a quick resolution.
It would be illuminating to know more about the terms of each side’s proposal, but unfortunately these negotiations take place behind closed doors, without taxpayer input. All the more reason for enhanced contract transparency at the local level.