New Board, New Opportunities in Philadelphia School District

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently appointed a 13-member nominating panel that will shape the district’s new school board. High on the panel’s list of requirements should be instilling a school board that will negotiate more responsible employee contracts.

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer story detailed the long wait Philly school employees face before receiving pay for their unused sick and personal days. Some of these employees are owed tens of thousands of dollars, including a former principal who is awaiting $69,000.

While these former employees are understandably frustrated, the article overlooks the underlying issue – a benefits system out of touch with Philadelphia’s fiscal challenges.

There’s a reason businesses don’t offer unlimited reimbursement for unused sick days. It’s unaffordable. Sick days are meant to help you when you are sick. Yet, of the three personal days and 10 sick days Philadelphia teachers receive annually, they can accumulate 100 percent of the personal days and 25 percent of the sick days in a “leave bank.”

Upon retirement, district employees are paid for those unused days at their current rate of pay, even though many of the days may have been banked at a much lower salary. The most recent contract changed the rate to 75 percent of current pay, but the change only affects new hires after July 1, 2017.

Even with modest reforms, the most recent contract will reportedly cost the district $395 million — $245 million over budget. This is amidst a looming pension crisis that threatens to overwhelm taxpayers.

Reforming unlimited payouts for unused personal and sick days offers the new Philadelphia school board a chance to replace failed policies with more fair, affordable contracts.

As Mayor Kenney’s panel considers candidates for the school board, it needs to find members who will finally stand up for the residents of Philadelphia.