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.

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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

$45,360

$46,694

$49,615

Step 2

$47,278

$48,945

$52,197

Step 3

$51,113

$53,531

$57,033

Step 4

$54,365

$56,531

$60,453

Step 5

$57,450

$59,532

$63,537

Step 6

$60,203

$62,368

$66,369

Step 7

$62,869

$65,121

$69,207

Step 8

$64,045

$67,788

$72,506

Step 9

$65,242

$70,565

$75,964

Step 10

$66,462

$73,454

$79,586

Step 11

$67,705

$76,462

$83,381

 

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.



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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.

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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!

ECS_Brownbag_(09-2014).jpg 

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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.

 

Sincerely,

The Caucus of Working Educators

A Caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

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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] gmail.com. We will follow-up with a meeting place and time in NYC.

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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

 

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Petition Against Health Hazards in District Schools

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Photo Courtesy of Jerry Roseman / City Paper

The Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH) has organized a petition that calls on the Mayor, City Council, and the SRC to require the school district to cooperate with a federal study about health hazards in Philly public school buildings. The study could greatly benefit students, teachers, and other staff, but School District has declined to participate. Unless the district reverses its decision by September 30, the study will be canceled.

The City Paper published a long article about this issue back in May, after the asthma-related death of Laporshia Massey, a student at Bryant Elementary: http://citypaper.net/article.php?Philly-School-District-blocks-a-federal-study-after-health-risks-are-exposed-20288.
PhilaPOSH has begun circulating the attached petition, and they are asking people to return it to them by September 9. In addition to calling for the study to be completed, the petition calls on the district to make information about health hazards publicly available and to collaborate with unions and other stakeholders to address these hazards.

Download the Petition - Sign and Return

All educators should take two minutes to print this petition, have it signed by staff and parents on the first day of school, and send signed copies to:
PhilaPOSH
3001 Walnut Street, 5th Fl.
Philadelphia, PA 19104

You can also e-mail scanned copies to Barbara at brahke@philaposh.org. For more information, call her at 215-386-7000.
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An Opt-Out Letter to Unite Parents and Teachers

Opt-Out Philly has written a beautiful letter for parents that want to refuse Pennsylvania's standardized testing regime this year.

Opting out is a very personal decision every family has to make. However, this letter makes it clear that parents and teachers need to find ways to work together against the "damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended." 

If you’d like to learn more about opting-out your own children, or how to talk to parents who might be interested, please contact optoutphilly@gmail.com. Read more about Opt-Out Philly's organizing work so far in this great Inquirer profile.

- - -

Dear (school principal),

We, the parents of (child’s name), an (?) grade student enrolled at (school name), are writing to state that standardized testing is against our religious and philosophical beliefs. We will be refusing all standardized testing for (child’s name) during the upcoming school year.

Our refusal includes, but is not limited to, the English, math, science, and writing PSSAs; benchmark testing; CDT (Classroom Diagnostic Tools) testing; any tests associated with PVAAS teacher evaluations; NAEP testing; as well as field testing of standardized test items.

We realize that we may be required to come in and review the testing materials and reconfirm our decision to refuse the tests. In that event, we request that you contact us at least two weeks prior to their scheduled administration so that we may set a time to do the review and complete that process. We can be reached at the phone number and emails provided above. During times in which standardized tests are being administered or standardized test preparation exercises are taking place, please allow (child’s name) to pursue alternate educational activities such as independent reading, a research project, or volunteering in the library.

I hope you understand that it is not our intent to harm (school name) or its staff. We hold the school and its teachers in high regard, and for that reason we are taking a stand against damaging policies that use high-stakes test scores for purposes for which they were never intended. Such purposes include: rating teachers, closing or turning schools over to private management, and withholding diplomas from students who have otherwise earned them. High-stakes standardized tests also pose significant problems for students not fluent in English and those with individualized education plans.

We believe in a broad curriculum that supports the individual needs of children and helps them develop their talents to become critical thinkers and contributors to a more just and democratic society. It is incomprehensible to us that during times of such austerity, when schools cannot even afford current textbooks, Philadelphia’s students are being ranked and sorted against children in affluent districts who have every advantage. It is a broken and corrupt system, and our conscience will not permit us to have our child be a part of it any longer.

Please let us know if we need to be in touch with her teachers individually, or if that is something you will do in your capacity as principal. We would appreciate it if you could provide a written confirmation that you have received this letter. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Parent Names

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Thank you from the Caucus of WE!

Huge props to all the WE members who represented at the PFT General Membership Meeting on Tuesday night and helped spread the word about how the Caucus is working to strengthen our union!

Nat Bartels, Klint Kanopka, Amy Brown, Mark Stern, Diane Payne, Sam Mastriano, Shaw MacQueen, Tom Quinn, Sheila Myers, Eileen Duffey, Pam Roy, Chris Palmer, Tom Hladchek, Kristin Leubbert, Amy Roat, Ray Porreca, Peggy Savage, David Hensel, George Bezanis, Tatiana Olmeda, Max Rosen-Long, Lou Borda, Anissa Weinraub, Sam Reed, Bob Fournier, Mike Bernstein, Larissa Pahomov, Kelley Collings...

(Names are in no particular order. Sorry if we missed anyone!)

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Teacher Union Boot Camp

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Wish that your colleagues participated in building meetings and other PFT events? Looking for inspiration as well as expert tips and tricks? Want to be more pro-active than reactive?

Then this boot camp is for you! RSVP now for our event.

Thursday, October 2nd / 4:30 – 6:30pm
IAFF Local 22 / 415 N. 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123

Parking can be found on the 400 block of Willow St.
Childcare and snacks provided!

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