Schoolmageddon 13: Philly Teachers Still Won’t Take a Pay Cut

In today’s roundup of Philadelphia Schools Apocalypse news, we learn that teachers are returning to school today without a finalized contract, hear from union leader Jerry Jordan on the district’s future, see how teachers are spending their money, and get a prediction from columnist Tom Ferrick about how this is all gonna shake out.

First, from CBS:

Philadelphia public school students don’t begin classes until next week, but teachers are back in their classrooms this morning, and they’re without a contract, after it expired over the weekend.  Teachers, though, say while the contract is a concern, the bigger concern is how understaffed schools could be after thousands of teachers, counselors and other staff were laid off earlier this year.

The union has agreed to a pay freeze and to healthcare contributions, but the district says that falls far short of the $103 million in concessions it needs.

The district is looking for pay cuts from 5 to 13 percent, and rule changes.

Union president Jerry Jordan has an op-ed in today’s paper.  (Good thing he didn’t need to do that next week, huh?)

Unfortunately, elected leaders and district officials think teachers and school employees should be the primary source of funds to ease the crisis. Their reaction to my announcement was, “It’s not enough.” They are not totally wrong – any savings we achieve through the changes I’ve proposed won’t be enough to restore our schools to what they should be.

The same is true of the city’s $50 million commitment, and Gov. Corbett’s $2 million in additional education funding. None of it is enough. But rather than keep the focus on a conversation about how to increase revenue for schools (and whom to hold accountable for this mess), Mayor Nutter instead wants to shift more attention to work rules in the PFT contract. These kinds of personnel management concerns are worthwhile to discuss, particularly in more secure economic times.

But to focus on work rules when our schools can’t afford copy paper is an irresponsible distraction from what really matters. Regardless of how parents may feel about teachers’ work rules, site selection, or tenure, it is foolish to suggest that these topics are anywhere near the top of their list of concerns – and they certainly aren’t on the minds of our students.

Of course, you kind of can’t blame teachers for not wanting to take a pay cut when they already subsidize the district by paying for classroom supplies out of their own pocket. NBC 10 reports that some teachers are turning to “crowdsourcing” websites to raise money they’re not getting from the district.

Allison Wudarski, a kindergarten teacher at the Julia deBurgos School in the Kensington section of the city, said her budget for school supplies each year is around $100 — and she doesn’t expect that to increase any time soon. Necessary supplies, she said, often come out of her own pocket.

To offset some of those costs, Wudarski has been raising money for supplies online and has gotten funding from people she doesn’t even know. Websites like and Indiegogo allow teachers to crowd fund everything from scissors to musical instruments.

“I’ve gotten a ton of books and things like writing notebooks, crayons and paper, pencils,” she said.

How’s all this going to end up? AxisPhilly’s Tom Ferrick believes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will get the final say—explaining that “Act 46” of state law allows the School Reform Commission to impose a settlement on teachers if the school year begins without a contract, and that a teacher challenge to that settlement would go straight to the state’s highest court.

If all this comes to pass, we will enter into murky waters.  In most labor disputes, the goal is to avoid sending the issues to the courts because – and here I use a technical term – you never know what the hell a judge is going to do.  It is a wild card.  And unions and management do not like wild cards.

If I were a bookie, though, I would give 3-2 odds the court would uphold Act 46.  This is not based on any inside information, but simply on the fact that the seven-member court tilts 4-3 Republican.

Is it better for the PFT to take a licking today and live to fight another day or possibly face its Waterloo at the hands of the Supremes?

Just another day on the precipice.