Are Philly Teachers on Par?

By George Bezanis

Editors Note: This article can now be downloaded as a printable PDF. Please print and share with colleagues, friends, and family!


SRC Chair Bill Green, Mayor Michael Nutter, and Governor Tom Corbett have recently said that the reason they decided to impose contract terms on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is because, unlike other school districts in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia teachers do not contribute toward health care. Philadelphia teachers, they claim, have not sacrificed enough for the children of Philadelphia.


The number Green, Nutter, Corbett, and the SRC have been throwing around is that it will only cost Philadelphia teachers 5-13% of the insurance premium, or approximately $25-$75 a month - a reasonable request.


What they fail to mention, however, is that that particular quote is for a single individual under a high deductible plan. Under the District’s new benefits, the SRC is now eliminating their previously cheaper Keystone HMO 15 $0 deductible plan. The new standard plan, Personal Choice 320, has higher deductibles and only covers 90% of inpatient hospital costs. This move deceptively forces teachers to “buy-up” to the Personal Choice 20/30/70 plan, which costs the district a total of $24,239.64 per year ($2019.97 x 12).


For someone who earns $55,000, the resulting $6319 yearly premium amounts to a 26% contribution -- not 13% as quoted in the papers -- and is, in fact, a 11.5% pay-cut for a Philadelphia teacher earning $55,000. If, God forbid, you have a spouse who works and would like to add them to your plan, it adds up to an astounding $8139 premium, or a 34% contribution resulting in a nearly 15% pay cut.


So what about those teachers in other schools that already pay towards their health care? How do Philadelphia teachers compare? Are Philadelphia teachers, as SRC Chair Bill Green stated, on par with them?


I decided to research what teachers who earn $55,000 in other districts pay towards their health care for a $0 deductible family plan (including spouse), and here are my findings:


$61 a month
Lower Merion
2.2% of salary
14% of premium
Council Rock
16% of premium
16% of premium
Central Bucks
16% of premium
Lower Moreland
6% of premium
11% of premium

26% of premium
34% of premium
$6,319 or
$8,139 (spouse)

*(Note: I researched over 20 districts, and while all the numbers are remarkably consistent with these findings, I only chose to include those districts that actually have their contracts posted online so that readers know the data is 100% accurate.)


How Would Your Health Care Costs Add Up?

We know that educators are still reeling from the announcement of imposed health care costs -- and trying to make sense of the many different numbers being thrown at them.

To help you make sense of what the SDP plan could cost you and your family, we are providing two charts below that show the per paycheck, monthly, and annual impact of these plans, depending on your pay level.

The first chart maps out the "automatic" Personal Choice 320 Plan -- which has inferior coverage to the Keystone East HMO currently offered as standard by the PFT -- and the second covers the "buy up" Personal Choice 20/30/70 plan.

Note that the district's original claim of pricing -- that it would cost $21 to $70 a month -- is only true for 5 out of 21 scenarios. (And four of those are for employees who make less than $25k a year.)

New Modified Personal Choice 320 Provided Insurance Plan Effective 12/15/2014 Per paycheck contribution if salary is less than $25k Monthly Impact Yearly Impact Per paycheck contribution if salary is $25k-$55k Monthly Impact Yearly Impact Per paycheck contribution if salary is greater than $55k Monthly Impact Yearly Impact
Single $12.85 $27.84 $334.10 $25.71 $55.71 $668.46 $33.42 $72.41 $868.92
Employee + Child $18.00 $39.00 $468.00 $35.99 $77.98 $935.74 $46.79 $101.38 $1,216.54
Employee + Children $23.14 $50.14 $601.64 $46.27 $100.25 $1,203.02 $60.16 $130.35 $1,564.16
Employee + Spouse $25.71 $55.71 $668.46 $51.42 $111.41 $1,336.92 $66.84 $144.82 $1,737.84
Employee + Spouse with Surcharge $95.71 $207.37 $2,488.46 $121.42 $263.08 $3,156.92 $136.84 $296.49 $3,557.84
Family $38.56 $83.55 $1,002.56 $77.12 $167.09 $2,005.12 $100.26 $217.23 $2,606.76
Family + Surcharge $108.56 $235.21 $2,822.56 $147.12 $318.76 $3,825.12 $170.26 $368.90 $4,426.76


Cost to 'buy up' to the more expensive Personal Choice 20/30/70 insurance plan Per Paycheck Cost if Salary is Less Than $25k for Personal Choice 20/30/70 Monthly Impact for Personal Choice 20/30/70 Yearly Impact for Personal Choice 20/30/70 Per Paycheck Salary $25k-$55k for Personal Choice 20/30/70 Monthly Impact for Personal Choice 20/30/70 Yearly Impact to Keep Personal Choice 20/30/70 Per Paycheck Salary greater than $55k to Keep Personal Choice 20/30/70 Monthly Impact to Keep Personal Choice 20/30/70 Yearly Impact to Keep Personal Choice 20/30/70
Single $60.44 $130.95 $1,571.44 $73.30 $158.82 $1,905.80 $81.01 $175.52 $2,106.26
Employee + Child $84.43 $182.93 $2,195.18 $102.42 $221.91 $2,662.92 $113.22 $245.31 $2,943.72
Employee + Children $108.81 $235.76 $2,829.06 $131.94 $285.87 $3,430.44 $145.83 $315.97 $3,791.58
Employee + Spouse $120.90 $261.95 $3,143.40 $146.61 $317.66 $3,811.86 $162.03 $351.07 $4,212.78
Employee + Spouse with Surcharge $190.90 $413.62 $4,963.40 $216.61 $469.32 $5,631.86 $232.03 $502.73 $6,032.78
Family $181.35 $392.93 $4,715.10 $219.91 $476.47 $5,717.66 $243.05 $526.61 $6,319.30
Family + Surcharge $251.35 $544.59 $6,535.10 $289.91 $628.14 $7,537.66 $313.05 $678.28 $8,139.30

What costs are being imposed on you and your family? Be public about it. Don't just talk about it at home -- talk about it in public. Philadelphia needs to know that these payments are not as "reasonable" as the SRC claimed they would be when they announced the canceled contract.

You can also download this as a PDF to print and share with your colleagues!

So, what do these plans cost the employer? If the percentages are accurate, the total cost of the Keystone 320 plans are as follows:

  Overall Cost of Policy for the Employer
Single $6,684.60
Employee + Child $9,357.40
Employee + Children $12,030.20
Employee + Spouse $13,369.20
Family $20,051.20

New Flyer: Calculate Your REAL 'Shared Sacrifice'

Want to explain to your neighbors, friends, and colleagues how much teachers already 'give back' to our schools and communities?

Our new flyer compares the exact dollar amounts teachers already contribute everyday in our classrooms and two years without a contract, side-by-side with the additional REAL costs of the SRC's new health givebacks (hint: it's way more than $70 a month!).

Download the printable flyer here, and share widely in your building and community how much teachers really sacrifice!

(And while you're at it, remind them that it's not about the money anyways- this is the SRC and Corbett playing politics with the lives of teachers and students).

Screenshot_2014-10-08_at_6.42.53_PM.png Screenshot_2014-10-08_at_6.43.05_PM.png

If you want more details on how to calculate the true total of your 'shared sacrifice' under the proposed health plan, here's the full breakdown of costs and benefits (download the PDF here):



EMERGENCY MEETING: Thurs 10/9 4-7pm at Tierra Colombiana (5th and Wyoming)

Emergency Public School Community Meeting: COME MAKE A PLAN TO HIT THE STREETS AND FIGHT BACK!

Thurs 10/9 4-7pm at Tierra Colombiana (5th and Wyoming, 4535 N. 5th St., 19140)

On Monday, in a barely-announced meeting designed to keep the public out, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC) voted to cancel the PFT contract and require that members begin paying for benefits out of their own paychecks. This radical attack on schools is yet another move by Gov. Corbett’s SRC to deprive people of their hard-earned money, benefits, and way of life.

Join educators, parents, staff, students, and neighbors from across the city for drinks, snacks and solidarity. We will be strategizing next steps in the ongoing fight for the schools our city deserves. New and old, school-based and not: all are welcome. Come share your opinion and hear from other Philadelphians who know that we can’t cut our way to high-quality schools. 

Please email, share, and tweet widely. And don't forget to put next week's SRC meeting on your calendar for an all-out rally.

If you can't make it tomorrow, WE will be hosting follow-up community meetings in the next two weeks


It's Not About The Money

Today, the School Reform Commission unilaterally voted to cancel the contract and require that PFT members begin paying for their benefits out of their own paychecks.


In this age of supposed austerity, this proposal can masquerade as being reasonable. After all, many public employees already pay for benefits out of their own paychecks. Teachers should chip in like the rest of working America, right?


The thing is, SRC’s demands have nothing to do with providing cash for the district, and everything to do with attacking teachers and their union for political gain.


Let’s look at the facts to see what’s really going on.

  • The District has already saved millions with teacher salary freezes -- but won’t admit it or say how much. Any teacher who hasn’t yet reached the top of the salary schedule receives an average salary increase of $2862.63 each year. With this second year of freezes, now these teachers are short an average of $5725.26 for 2014-215, but the district refuses say just how much these givebacks add up to, or even acknowledge this sacrifice already imposed on teachers.
  • $43.8 million may seem like a big number, but it’s a tiny piece of the pie. What the districts claims they will save with these benefits payments represents only 1.4% of the district’s 2014 operating budget. To see how the costs break down, check out this interactive visualization of the complete budget. (Try picking out which two central office budgets come closest to $43.8 million.)


Not yet convinced? Consider a few other expenses and revenue options:

  • Banks are currently making a fortune off of the district. Nearly 9 percent of the annual budget -- a whopping $276.4 million dollars -- goes towards debt servicing. That does not mean paying back debts. That just means paying interest on existing loans and bonds. Why is profit for big banks being valued over health care for teachers?
  • Charter operators are not being asked to give back. Non-District operated Schools represent 27.6% of the district’s budget. Since each charter network sets up its own system for benefits, SDP cannot impose an across-the-board change, but no demand for any kind of giveback is being made.
  • Philadelphia businesses are not being asked to pay their share. There are many ways that Philadelphia gives businesses a pass when it comes to supporting public education. The ten-year tax abatement has cost the city $26.1 million in potential revenue. Hotels owe the city another $2.6 million in unpaid taxes. All in all, new developments and improvements supported by tax abatements will cost the school district $50 million in 2014.
  • Philadelphia institutions aren’t, either. In the 1990’s, more than 40 tax-exempt non-profit organizations, including the University of Pennsylvania,  provided the city with $9 million dollars worth of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). In 2011, that dwindled to below $400,000 and has dropped even more since then. By contrast, Princeton University alone gave $7.7 million in PILOT money to their community in 2012.


So, if it’s not about the money, then what’s it about? Look carefully at what else is being demanded.

  • In their statement, SDP calls for the dismantling of the PFT Health and Welfare Fund. This office is a cornerstone of the services that the union provides. Because they are not directly in charge of the funding, the Health and Welfare office is free to work as an independent advocate for members in need of its services, putting health and well-being before costs. Employer-based benefit programs typically do the opposite, making their bottom line a financial one.
  • Even if the system for health care coverage did change, there is no reason that the Health and Welfare fund couldn’t continue to manage those programs.
  • What else did the SDP choose to cut, effective immediately? Payments to the PFT Legal Services Fund.

Let the public know -- this is not really about funding. This is an attempt to dismantle the union that defends public education in Philadelphia.

In the face of this underhanded attack, working educators will continue to honor the contract they have with the children of Philadelphia and serve them as best they can.


How to Calculate What You've Already Given Back

Note: This information is now available as a PDF, with the health care costs proposed by SDP on the back. Print and share with your colleagues.


“It is time for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to share in the sacrifice.”


This statement has dominated recent news, with the School District of Philadelphia claiming that givebacks on health benefits are necessary to help balance the budget.


Not only does this statement insult the working educators who rely on the PFT Health and Welfare fund to keep them healthy and working, it assumes that teachers have not already sacrificed, when we have -- and there’s a exact dollar amount for each and every teacher.


How to Calculate What You've Already Given BackScreen_shot_2014-10-06_at_8.14.18_PM.png


First off, if you haven’t yet added up the supplies you buy out of pocket, do so. Especially if you used to be a recipient of the $1000 “high needs classroom” stipend!


The most important calculation, though, is your frozen salary.


If you are not yet maxed out on the salary schedule, you "gave back" thousands of dollars in unearned pay for the last school year -- and since the pay scale is still frozen, you're on track to give back even more for 2014-2015. For example, a teacher frozen at Step 5 has already saved the District $2753 last year, and will save them $5419 this year.


Use the chart below to calculate your exact giveback by subtracting your frozen step salary from your actual level of seniority. If you were frozen out of an education increase, include that in your calculation as well.


Certified Teacher (Regular)




Bachelor's Degree

Master's Degree

Master's Plus 30

Step 1




Step 2




Step 3




Step 4




Step 5




Step 6




Step 7




Step 8




Step 9




Step 10




Step 11





Then, make your giveback public knowledge. Tell your friends and family. Post it on Facebook. Talk about it at work. Inform the parents of your students. Break the silence that employees have about salary (especially since all of our salaries are already public record.) We need to combat the fallacy that teachers have not sacrificed. We know the truth, the public needs to hear it from us.


How to Host a Rally at Your Back to School Night in 5 Minutes or Less

Last week, Caucus of Working Educators members and their colleagues at Central H.S. organized a rally outside of back to school night, bringing attention to overcrowded classrooms, lack of custodians and counselors, and other ways that drastic education cuts affect our daily lives in schools. Placing 59 desks outside the school to demonstrate how many students 59 to a class really is, teachers and students handed out flyers (including in Spanish and Chinese) and spoke to families. Lois Weiner even gave a huge shout-out for the event.

What you probably haven't heard is that this action was put together over the course of only a few days, by full-time teachers teachers, counselors, and nurses. Here's the report from Central Biology Teacher KD Davenport:

A few weeks ago a friend shared an article on Facebook about teachers at Ridley Middle School holding a demonstration publicizing their contract situation at Back to School Night. I thought it was cool, and I thought, "wow, too bad we're not doing something like that." It wasn’t for another three days that I suddenly realized—Oh wait--we can!

With less than a week to go, I emailed a few other teachers at my school and asked if they’d be interested. “I know none of us have time to organize this,” I said, “but we will never again see as many parents as we will on Back to School Night.” On this night, I wanted parents to know about all the staff and resources that were NOT coming back to school because of the budget crisis.

I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. With every response to my email, it seemed, another staff member was copied. People were amazing about contributing their gifts: One creative colleague suggested that we line up 59 desks to represent the number of students in an Algebra class on the first day of school; another put together a flier of facts and figures about the recent cuts; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese for parents who may not speak English. Once we had a flyer made up, we adapted it into a press release and sent out a blast via email and Twitter to the media. Word quickly spread and on Back To School Night we were joined by reporters and photographers from NBC 10, ABC 6, The Inquirer, and WHYY Newsworks.

Our PFT building committee was incredibly supportive and publicized the event to the entire staff. Our administration was also on board. President McKenna came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym from Parents United showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!

And even if you only have 5 minutes of spare time, you can do the same for your back to school night!

Here are some of the ways the WE members are speaking out about the state of education in Philadelphia --and what we can do to change it-- at their schools. Whatever the size of your school or the time you have available, these are some ideas to help you take action:

If you only have 5 minutes: Add a slide to your back to school night powerpoint about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year. See Central's flyer below for inspiration. 

If you only have 15 minutes: Turn that slide into a flyer, and ask 2 of your supportive colleagues to hand them out as well!

If you only have an hour: Get a group of teachers at your school together to develop talking points and talk to families, just like Feltonville teachers did earlier this year

If you have more than an hour: Organize an informational picket outside of your school! After a Central teacher came up with the idea, a small group put together some details, and pitched it to their colleagues at professional development. 

What's your idea? Let us know! WE is here to support all educators in standing up for public education in Philadelphia.



Caucus Members Organize Talk at Penn

Are you a member of the Penn community? Know somebody who is?

Spread the word about this lunchtime discussion, organized by three Caucus members who are also students and faculty members of the university. Tuesday, September 24th at noon, GSE Room 322!



Caucus Stands with Teachers in British Columbia

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation has been in a contract dispute with their government, and spent several days striking in advance of the school year. Their members recently voted to enter binding arbitration -- now their elected officials must agree to it!

Below is our letter:

September 12, 2014

Dear Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender,

WE write in support of our sisters and brothers in the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and ask that the BC Government agree to arbitration of the collective agreement.  Teachers are currently striking in order to improve classroom conditions for their students: as a striking teacher said this week, "The primary point is getting funding for students, for getting more staff, for getting correct class sizes."  Teachers, school staff, and honest education researchers know that these things are extremely important in order to give students the education they deserve.

The BCTF has reasonably asked for this long-term dispute to go to binding arbitration. Binding arbitration is a fair and standard labor-relations practice that allows an impartial third party to mediate contentious disputes and guide fair solutions. If the government would agree to this, the schools could open quickly and students and teachers could get back to work.

Most stakeholders in British Columbia are behind this rational solution—everyone from teachers to parents to mayors and newspapers support sending this labor dispute to binding arbitration. Why does the government resist a fair and neutral process?

As fellow working educators and social justice unionists, WE respectfully ask that the government of British Columbia agree to put these issues to binding arbitration so that teachers and students can get back to teaching and learning.



The Caucus of Working Educators

A Caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA


March with WE at the People's Climate March: Sun, Sept 21st

In a little less than two weeks, activists, educators, and unionists from around the country will be gathering in New York City for the largest environmental march in the history of the United States. The Caucus of Working Educators will be there, marching alongside other unions and activists from Philadelphia (plus our hot new WE banner!).

350 Philly and Action United have organized low cost buses to and from Philadelphia next Sunday, but they're going fast. 

Reserve your ticket now. Buses will be leaving at 8am and will return by 7pm that evening. Please let us know that you're coming, or if you have any questions, by emailing max.rosenlong [at] We will follow-up with a meeting place and time in NYC.


Why is climate change also a labor and education issue? I'll let Naomi Klein (whose book The Shock Doctrine was one of our summer readings groups) explain:

Our current economic model is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. It’s waging war on the life support systems of the planet itself. The conditions for life on earth. 

...[Climate Change is] a powerful message – spoken in the language of fires, floods, storms and droughts – telling us that we need an entirely new economic model, one based on justice and sustainability.  

In Philly's public schools we're all too familiar with the effects of this unsustainable model, as we begin yet another year of budget crises and cuts. Join WE on Sunday, Sept. 21st to stop global warming and to build a just and sustainable economy.


More information:

Why Unions Need to Join the Climate Fight, Naomi Klein

A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change, Bill McKibben