Teachers union to Philadelphia schools: Drop dead

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PHILADELPHIA – Things are bad in the Philadelphia school district – real bad.

teachers unionDistrict officials need $304 million extra dollars this school year just to balance its new, slimmed-down budget, which pays for 24 fewer schools and 3,000 fewer employees than it did last year.

School leaders thought they could limp along if taxpayers would agree to kick in $180 million in extra revenue and if the district’s teachers union – the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – would agree to $112 million in contract concessions. (Some media reports put the requested union concessions at $103 million.)

Asking teachers for more than a $100 million in concessions sounds draconian, but it’s not. In 2012, EAGnews reviewed the PFT’s labor contract with the district and discovered it’s larded up with all kinds of financial giveaways, including free health insurance, extra money for “health and wellness” expenses, and a special fund to pay for members’ legal expenses.

So, three months into the school year, how have the two sides come through for Philly schools?

Taxpayers – through their representatives in the city and state governments – have come up with $112 million for the beleaguered school district, 62 percent of what district officials requested, according to The Notebook.

The PFT, on the other hand, has contributed exactly nothing towards keeping the school district – the union members’ employer – afloat.

The revised projected shortfall is $192 million, large enough to force district schools into operating “with shrunken staffs, sparse instructional materials, inadequate counseling services for students, and classes at their contractual maximum,” The Notebook reports.

Some parents are also alleging the district is shirking its legally mandated duty of providing special education services to qualifying students.

As bad as things are right now for Philly schools, observers expect them to get worse during the 2014-15 school year. Officials have depleted the district’s savings account just to get through this year, leaving little left for next year. And while officials are in the process of selling off the district’s excess property, they’ve already received an advance on those anticipated dollars from the city, according to The Notebook.

Union supporters only two solutions appears to be to raise taxes and to cut or cap funding to the city’s charter schools, which are serving as a kind of escape hatch for city’s families that desperately want a decent education for their kids.

These are bleak times for Philadelphia’s public schools. But if the intransigent PFT thinks they can keep saying “no” to concession requests and that taxpayers will keep bailing them out, union leaders should take a look at Detroit Public Schools. If they do, they’ll see for themselves that things can get worse, and that the financial pain will eventually hit union members, too.

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