Will Philly Union Contract Require State Bailout?

Philadelphia’s new teacher contract could be so expensive as to require teacher layoffs to pay for it. But there’s another way the $395 million pact could be financed: with a bailout from residents in Pennsylvania’s other 499 school districts.

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke admitted as much to Philly.com:

Darrell L. Clarke said that the contract brings needed stability, and that Mayor Kenney and Council would be looking at potential revenue in the next several months. It was clear to all parties that any multiyear contract would mean a gap in funding, Clarke said, as the district projects a deficit beginning next year.

“We will be at the state’s door, knocking on the door, asking them to meet us, help us meet this obligation,” Clarke said. “I don’t know how that will play out, but we’re hoping.”

Here’s how spokesmen from the House and Senate responded to the possibility of a bailout from non-Philadelphians.

Some officials in Harrisburg sounded ominous notes about their willingness to help foot the bill, which is $245 million more than the district has budgeted. A source close to the negotiations has said that the deal could mean teacher layoffs down the road.

Republicans who control both legislative chambers in Harrisburg threw cold water on any expectation that the state would send Philadelphia more money to help it pay for the contract.

“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,” said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Republicans.

Drew Crompton, the top lawyer for Senate Republicans, said he was flabbergasted by the move to approve a contract for which the district does not have the money.

“I can’t fathom the school board signing a deal that they fundamentally know that they can’t pay for,” he said. “It’s perplexing.”

Here's the bottom line. A behind-closed-doors negotiation produced a contract that will require teacher layoffs, tax hikes on non-Philadelphians, or a combination of both. Worse, these problems are only coming to light after the agreement has been approved.

Residents of Pennsylvania deserve better than being kept in the dark for more than four years, only to be slipped a multi-million dollar bill at the 11th hour. The case for contract transparency has never been stronger. Lawmakers should move quickly on SB 168, SB 503, and SB 504 to protect taxpayers from unaffordable contracts, prevent needless teacher layoffs, and shed light on the secretive collective bargaining process.