Below is the original Work-to-Rule Campaign proposal from WE that was proposed at a meeting between the Caucus of Working Educators (represented by Yaasiyn Muhammad, Kelley Collings, Larissa Pahomov, Ismael Jimenez, Delilah Washington, and Amy Roat) and the PFT leadership (represented by Jerry Jordan, Dee Phillips, Evette Jones, Hillary Linardopoulos, and George Jackson) on July 24, 2015.
The original plan details a 5-month-long membership-driven organizing campaign -- involving parents, community members, and other unions in our buildings -- that galvanizes a united front against the resource starvation and budget crises faced by our schools under the 15-year-long SRC rule.
Instead, what the PFT leadership handed the membership was an eleventh hour email the Friday before the so-called work-to-rule actions were to occur.
Let's be clear on the difference between deep organizing and shallow mobilizing. Deep organizing makes us stronger as a union. Deep organizing demands that we have solid relationships with each other as PFT members. Deep organizing requires that we develop authentic power-sharing partnerships with parents and community members as we fight for the resources our students and school deserve. The Caucus of Working Educators is committed to deep organizing that leads to effective direct actions. Anything less than that does a disservice to our students and our schools.
Effective work-to-rule actions take months to organize. The campaign at Mifflin Elementary is an example of effective, authentic, thorough organizing and should be lifted up as such.
As we struggle at our schools to decide how to respond to the PFT leadership's last minute work-to-rule directive, let's look for ways to honor and support each other as rank-and-file members engaged in grassroots organizing in our schools. Any schools seeking advice on planning an action can contact Mifflin Teacher firstname.lastname@example.org or Caucus Co-Chair Kelley Collings at Kelley.Collings@gmail.com.
Contract campaign proposal for work-to-rule actions
The contract campaign will run from August through November 2015.
The purpose of the campaign is:
(1) to build consensus among all public education stakeholders (rank-and-file teachers, parents, community members, and students) about what has been taken away from Philadelphia public schools over the last 15 years;
(2) to build consensus among all public education stakeholders about what all stakeholders have done to fill the void left by the budget cuts;
(3) to build political will among all stakeholders to wage a week-long work-to-rule action that will demonstrate publicly what Philadelphia public schools would be like without the extra volunteerism of teachers, parents, and community members.
The structure of the campaign is as follows:
1. Chapter meetings:
Each school will hold a PFT Chapter meeting as soon as possible after Sept 2 (with teachers, paras, counselors, nurses). Rank-and-file members will use butcher block paper to answer the following questions: What did schools look like 15 years ago (even 5 years ago)? What do we do now as educators to fill the void? What do we do now for free – in the name of the students – to compensate for the systematic starvation of our schools.
2. Community/parent/student meetings:
Each school will hold a meeting with parents, community members, and students in late September or early October. Parents, community members, and students will use butcher block paper to answer the following questions: What did schools look like 15 years ago (even 5 years ago)? What do we (as parents, community members, and students) do now to fill the void? What do we see educators doing to fill the void? Where possible, these meetings can happen at Back-to-School Night. If it’s not possible to make this part of the official Back-to-School Night, PFT members can use Back-to-School Night to distribute flyers and turn folks out for upcoming meetings (that can occur onsite/inside or offsite/outside of schools) that would be scheduled within a week of Back-to-School Night. At the end each meeting, we pose the question: “What would it look like if we all stopped doing these extra things for one week to send a message to the politicians that we refuse to be starved anymore?” We use the opportunity to get folks on board for the week-long work-to-rule action.
3. Week-long Work-to-Rule Actions
In mid-October schools across the district will stage a week-long work-to-rule action co-organized by educators, parents, community members, and students. Specific actions will be decided at the local school level and will be designed to demonstrate the devastating effects of systematically starving our schools of the funds and resources they so desperately need.
4. Culminating action
The week of local school work-to-rule actions will culminate in a huge city-wide action (rally, march, or other type of direct action) in mid-October designed to publicly and visually display unmistakable unity among educators, parents, community members, and students for what Philadelphia public schools need.
- We could kick off the campaign at a PFT general membership meeting in August with a direct action immediately following the meeting. For example, we could all pour of the meeting into the streets with picket signs and march to a strategic target with a demand. (Another possibility is to kick off the campaign on a Tele-townhall call. This is less ideal since it won’t capture the kind of energy and momentum that a meeting & direct action will capture.)
- This could be shared in Building Representatives meetings in Sept with rank & file leaders introducing the campaign alongside PFT staffers. This would signal to the Bldg Reps that this is a membership-driven campaign.
- Explore the possibility of getting an article in the Notebook’s fall issue around this campaign. Have a teacher/parent/student/community member write an editorial.
- We need to come up with a name for the campaign. Possible campaign messaging:
- Stop the Starvation
- Then & Now (posters & flyers)
- The slow death/ruin/decimation of public education
- We’ve been in the pot on the stove for 15 years now, and the water is boiling
- Remember school when…
- Remember when public education was…
- Remember when public education meant…
- Public education: THEN & NOW
- We need a tool to harness stories (from educators, parents, community members, and students) publicly using social media
- We need to pull in the Kenney and Gym campaigns
- We need to pull in parent groups: H&S; Parents United; Action United; POWER
- We need to pull in student organizing groups: YUC; PSU; Phila Youth Poetry Movement; Philly Youth Commission
- We need to pull in other unions within the SDP: 1201; 634; CASA
By Dave Thomer
Much of the controversy regarding the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) rests on the distinction between defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement systems.
- In defined-benefit systems, the employer promises to pay a certain benefit to the employee upon retirement, usually based on working salary and length of service. The employee and the employer make contributions to an overall fund, which is then invested in an effort to grow the fund. If the fund does not grow enough to cover all of the promised benefits, the employer must contribute additional funds to make up the difference.
- In defined-contribution systems, the employer promises to make a certain contribution to the employee’s retirement fund. The employee usually gets to choose how this individual fund will be invested from a limited menu of options. When the employee retires, he or she can begin to withdraw from his or her individual fund. If the fund has grown considerably, the employee gets all of the benefit of that growth. But if it has not grown substantially enough to pay for the employee’s expenses during retirement, then the employee is responsible for making up the difference in whatever way possible.
PSERS is a defined-benefit system. It promises to provide a set payout no matter the current growth or status of the fund.
Many private companies have shifted their retirement benefit plans away from defined-benefit and toward defined-contribution because these are less expensive for the employer and create more cost certainty. As many public employee pension funds have faced large gaps between the money they expect to have and the money they are expected to pay out (aka, an unfunded liability), some lawmakers have tried to force this shift.
PSERS currently has a significant unfunded liability. One study estimates that there is an almost 70% chance that PSERS will run out of money in the next 15 years. Two laws passed in the last fifteen years help explain the situation.
- Act 9 in 2001 increased the contribution that workers made during their employment and also increased the benefit that they would receive when they retired. Employees at the time had the choice of retaining the old lower contribution and the corresponding lower benefit; employees who started working on or after July 1, 2001 automatically were put in the higher group. Employees who kept the old contribution and payout are in Class T-C. Employees who make the higher contribution and receive the higher payout are in Class T-D.
- Act 120 in 2010 created two new groups of employees. Employees who join PSERS after July 1, 2011 choose to become part of Class T-E or Class T-F. Members of Class T-E make the same base contribution as members of Class T-D, but their pension benefit is the lower amount received by members of Class T-C. Members of Class T-F pay a higher employee contribution, but get the higher benefit associated with Class T-D. In addition, members of Classes T-E and T-F are subject to a shared-risk adjustment to their contribution. If the pension fund’s investments have not performed well over a three-year period, creating a larger unfunded liability, these employees must make a higher contribution in order to help make up the difference. So far, since Act 120 passed, this has not been required.
How do I know which category I fall into? Use the chart below to figure out which group you belong to. The PSERS website does have an online tool that will allow you to look up your member statement, but you must register in order to use the tool and it will take several days after you register for you to receive your password. The tool can be found at http://www.psers.state.pa.us/interaction/default.htm . The School District of Philadelphia Office of Human Resources also maintains a website with retirement information that can be found at http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/r/retirement , or you can call 215-400-4680 for more information.
Act 9 was passed in part because the pension systems were in good shape after the high stock market returns of the 1990s. Between Act 9 and Act 120, there were two major stock market crashes, and school districts made smaller contributions in order to balance the budget. Many districts have experienced job cuts and or salary freezes and reductions since the 2009 recession, which means that current employees are putting less money than originally expected into the fund in order to pay for the benefits of current retirees. Act 120 also set caps on the rate at which school district contributions to the pension funds will increase, which can increase the gap between what the fund has on hand and what it needs to pay future benefits.
With PSERS facing such a large unfunded liability, it is very likely that the state government will make additional changes in the future. These changes could include changes to future benefits, changes to current contributions, or a conversion from the current defined-benefit system to a defined-contribution system. In fact, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill that would have required all new employees to join a new defined-contribution system that would eventually replace the existing defined-benefit system. Governor Wolf vetoed this bill, but we should expect changes to the pension system to be a continued subject of negotiations between the governor and the legislature.
It is also important to note that even though the bill vetoed by the governor would have left current members’ benefits and contributions unchanged at present, it would still have an effect on the health of the system. If all future employees are moved to a new defined-contribution system, that means that their payroll contributions will not go into the fund for the existing defined-benefit system. This would have the potential to increase the unfunded liability in the future.
As the negotiations continue, we will provide updates on this blog.
Dave Thomer teachers at Parkway Center City.
The School District of Philadelphia continues efforts to undermine the nationally recognized school health program offered for over one hundred years by seeking proposals to outsource certified school nurse positions.
Certified school nurses of Philadelphia have gained national and international attention in courageous advocacy for our students over the past three years since 100 nursing positions were eliminated.
Unlike the providers who will replace us if the district has its way
PFT certified school nurses provide:
- Assessment and/or treatment and referral for every student, regardless of insurance status
- Professional care with the utmost attention to privacy, coordinating care with families and primary care providers as needed
- Evidence-based best practices, allowing students to remain in their classrooms to ensure optimal learning opportunities
- Longstanding knowledge of our communities, families, and students
- Stability as permanent, committed members of our school team
- Advocacy for every child’s health and wellness
STAND UP FOR PHILADELPHIA'S CERTIFIED SCHOOL NURSES! Share this information widely and contact email@example.com for more information and to help out.
- Who will review the immunization data at the beginning of the school year and compile a list of students who are not vaccinated or under-vaccinated so they can be excluded if there is an outbreak?
- Who will follow up on each under-immunized student to complete their immunizations, thus protecting the school community?
- Who will identify the medically fragile students and plan for their care in school?
- Who will insists on a comprehensive physical from every new student to this school? Who will read and understand that physical, once it is completed?
- Who will check each student’s vision every year, near and far, expresses the results in easy to understand terms, your child can see at 20 feet what the normal eye can see at 200 feet, and then refer the students for a vision evaluation? Who will periodically follow up on those failures and give them an extra push to see the specialist?
- Who will check hearing on all the 9th graders and new students?
- Who will advise medical input for IEP’s and 504’s?
- Who will assess a child in a health crisis?
Last week the School District of Philadelphia issued a request for proposals to outsource school nurse jobs. Following a decision to privatize substitute teachers last month, it is clear that no one is immune from the attack on schools and educators. Fight back with nurses this Thursday outside the SRC meeting!
School nurses have been decimated in the last few years, with many schools having a nurse only 1-2 days a week (or even less frequently). Now the SDP is banking on entrepreneurial thirst to commodify students by billing insurance companies for services provided by school nurses.
"If the District was really concerned with improving health care for our students the first step it would take would be to recall the 100 nurses who have been laid off as a result of an austerity budget adopted three years ago" explains PCAPS in their statement on the issue.
For more information, listen to WE Member and Palumbo H.S. Nurse Eileen Duffey interviewed by Reverend Mark Tyler of Mother Bethel AME Church.
And this Thursday at 4:30pm, stand up for the nurses our students deserve!
Early next week, the School District of Philadelphia will publish its vacancy list of available positions for the 2015-2016 School year. All vacancies will be filled by the site-selection process. Does your school have its Staff Selection Committee ready to go? Do you know how the teacher members of the committee were chosen? Do you know what procedures the committee must follow for interviews and hiring?
All these issues are addressed in the School District’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
For some frequently asked questions and the answers, please see the following:
1. Who can be on the staff selection committee at my school?
In elementary and middle schools the committee has five members—three teachers from the school, a parent from the school, and the principal. In high schools the committee has six members— three teachers from the school, a parent from the school, a student, and the principal.
2. Who chooses the teacher, parent, and student members and how are they chosen?
If your school has a School Council, that council chooses the teachers for the committee. IF your school DOES NOT have this council, the PFT Building Committee in conjunction with the principal chooses the teacher members. The Home & School Association (HSA) chooses the parent member, and the principal chooses the student member (in high schools).
***Principals should ask the staff who is interested in serving on the committee, and then have the SAC or Building Committee choose from the interested teachers. Teachers volunteer for this, there is no renumeration.
3. How are interviews conducted?
ALL candidates for positions in the school must be interviewed by the same committee and asked the same set of questions. The Principal, in consultation with the Staff Selection Committee, shall establish appropriate, objective criteria and procedures to identify candidates for filling vacancies.
4. What if the principal and the committee cannot agree on whom to hire?
In the event that the Committee fails to reach consensus, the Principal shall make the selection from among the three (3) most qualified applicants as ranked by the staff selection committee.
All these procedures are delineated in the PFT Contract (pages 72-73):
Rules and procedures for establishing and running a School Advisory Council (SAC):
On Thursday, February 19th, History Teacher George Bezanis accepted an award for his work with the Central High School debate team.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the SRC,
I appeared in front of you earlier in this meeting as a teacher, Debate Coach and Site Organizer for the entire A.S.A.P. League matches at Central High School. I posed for a photograph and accepted your award.
I am also a proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the PFT’s Caucus of Working Educators, a public school parent, and a locally elected Democratic committee person in the 63rd Ward. These many hats shouldn’t come as a surprise though. We all wear them…
Whether we have never spent a day as a public educator but, instead, run charities for millionaires in the Wyncote Foundation and are appointed by a Republican governor who never dared step foot in a Philadelphia school…
Whether we say we advocate for children, but in the meantime collect a paycheck from Comcast while yelling at students that they “Must attend failing schools!”
Whether we claim to be an objective member of an unelected school board, but must recuse ourselves from every other vote because our husband’s law firm has ties to charter schools throughout the district…
Whether we dream of being mayor like our father, and just see this as another political stepping stone…
Whether we’re the only person on this mockery of a democratic institution who has actually worked in a classroom and, as a result, voted NO on every charter authorization vote. Thank you, Marge!
And finally, whether you are yet another Eli Broad Academy superintendent seeking to “narrow the achievement gap” by shutting down schools. A superintendent who takes a 10% pay cut but then secretly reinstates it one year later.
Do you know how much my pay cut was last year? I didn’t get paid for running the Debate program, but continued to do so (free of charge) because I had to look my students in the eyes – not you. As we approach yet another September without a contract, my total lost step and degree wages are now approaching $15,000.
Meanwhile, this body votes in new charters it can’t afford, continues to hire 6-figure employees, extend contracts to Teach For America, and refuses to lobby for PILOT payments, abatement reform, or “interest rate swap” renegotiation.
Instead, you say that the PFT needs to give back. Don’t pretend to thank teachers like myself by giving them awards at the beginning of an SRC meeting, and then secretly voting to take away my contract.
If you really want to thank teachers like me, forget the cheap photo-op and
Get back to the negotiating table!
Give us a fair contract!
Then, hopefully, you can
Vote to dissolve this sham of a school board!
By Jesse Gottschalk and Dan Symonds
As first-year teachers in Philadelphia public schools, it can be extremely difficult to find the time or the energy to assume any sort of responsibility outside our own classrooms. Lesson planning, grading, and parent phone calls often stand in the way of social lives, laundry, and basic attempts at nutrition and exercise.
And yet, on October 16th, we were blocking North Broad Street, along with thousands of other teachers, students, school staff, and allies, to protest the School District’s latest attack on democracy and public education – this time, its dubiously legal decision to cancel the teachers’ contract. Along with dozens of others (including many other members of the Caucus of Working Educators), we gave testimony before the School Reform Commission – the five member body, appointed by the Governor and Mayor, which exercises complete control over Philadelphia schools.
One of us (Dan) presented a citizen’s plea for courage from a body of politicians who have shown anything but. Dan spoke of the powers of the SRC, demanding to know why the SRC would scapegoat teachers and spending issues rather than attacking the real roots of Philadelphia’s educational crisis – the political decisions made to starve our schools and steer resources away from public education. When Mr. Green spoke up to tepidly reply, “This body does not have the taxing power...” Dan replied, “Yes, but you do have the speaking power.” Green’s reaction? Crickets.
The other one of us (Jesse) testified to the tremendous level of commitment and sacrifice that has become both a routine and necessary part of being a Philadelphia educator. Jesse declared it “shameful” that the caretakers of such a challenged system would make a calculated attack on teachers, and accuse us of not “sharing in the sacrifice,” rather than standing beside those of us on the frontlines committing our lives to providing our students a worthwhile education.
Two weeks later, we each received the same email from the SRC’s Chief of Staff. Chairman Green was interested in meeting with us, individually, to discuss our “concerns and [our] experiences as a teacher.”
It is not often that you are given the opportunity to meet individually with the person who essentially is our boss’s boss’s boss.
We turned the meeting down.
To be clear – we love the idea of having a School District leader who genuinely listens to teachers. Just like teachers should listen to students and families, it is essential for the leadership of an urban school system to be responsive to the people who actually work within the individual classrooms.
We think it is extremely important for the School District to take teacher perspectives into account when it comes to school conditions, employment policies, and other ways in which the School District influences the circumstances in which teachers work.
We are also aware that all of these things – school conditions, employment policies, and the circumstances in which teachers work – are part of the teachers’ contract. The same contract which the District has refused to negotiate, and recently threw in the dumpster.
And Chairman Green expects us to go behind our union’s back, to discuss the same issues he has refused to engage with our leadership about? We will not.
We don’t know Chairman Green’s motivations in calling a meeting with us. We can’t, since he declined to respond to our questions asking what he wanted to discuss. However, we refuse to take part in any action which might seek to divide or undermine our union, especially as we are calling on the District to negotiate with our union leadership.
Since Chairman Green refused to let us know his intentions in meeting with us, allow us to set forward one possibility. The two of us have something in common: we are new teachers. This distinguishes us from the other WE members who testified on October 16th – none of whom received the same invitation.
So why would Chairman Green want to meet with us? We fear that he might have in mind the day when he could say the following: “I recently met with some teachers – good, hard-working teachers, the kind we need more of in this District. But if we keep the old teacher tenure laws of the teachers’ contract, then these teachers are in danger of losing their jobs.”
So in case that is indeed Mr. Green’s message, allow us to say that, while we do care deeply about our jobs, we care even more about the job – restoring teaching as a viable, supported, and respected career option.
As new teachers, we believe wholeheartedly that experience matters to educators. Research as well as anecdotal evidence overwhelmingly bears this out. We want to work in a system that cultivates the profession of teaching – protecting and supporting teachers in order to make all teachers as effective as possible, rather than scapegoating them for problems and undermining their job security and working conditions.
Meanwhile, those oft-demonized protections like tenure amount to a requirement of due process – a necessary protection for teachers like us, who wish to remain politically active in advocating for stronger schools, against vindictive leaders. Further, in a school system where rampant teacher turnover is dwarfed by catastrophic levels of principal turnover, these policies protect teachers from attacks by inexperienced principals with little understanding of classroom instruction or effective practices. We unequivocally stand in support of these protections for our colleagues.
We stand ready to engage in public dialogue with Chairman Green as soon as he concludes his negotiations with our union leadership. In the meantime, if Chairman Green truly believes in being responsive and democratic, we encourage him to vote to dissolve the SRC and replace it with a democratically elected school board which will have no choice but to listen to the will of our city.
[In refusing our meeting with Chairman Green, we were joined by the other WE members who testified on October 16th, and released an open letter with support from the Caucus.]
By Anissa Weinraub
For the past couple weeks, my school has been buzzing with buildup to Halloween. It is a tradition at the Academy @ Palumbo to host a "Parade of Horrors" -- where students get a chance to strut in front of their peers (i.e. the ENTIRE student body) in their costumes and compete for prizes. And they got into it today -- in terms of the creativity and playfulness of the costumed contestants, as well as the extreme positivity and support pouring from the audience of their peers. In what may seem like an anomaly from the usual depiction of Philly teenagers, this morning our auditorium was filled with hundreds of screaming youth, all focused on celebrating one another.
On Thursday, October 16th, ten members of the Caucus testified before the SRC. This week we will be posting some of their testimonies in written form.
My name is Jesse Gottschalk, and I am a 3rd grade teacher at Henry Lea Elementary, a PFT member, and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators.
And when I tell people that I’m a teacher in a Philadelphia public school, people respond with wide eyes. They treat it like such an immense challenge and sacrifice, that I start to wonder. What does it mean that one of the most important careers in the world is now considered so impossible in this city that people think you have to be some kind of martyr to do this?
And the sad part is, I can’t say they’re wrong. In order to do my job, I’ve already spent $1,000 out of pocket on this school year, and I consider it an easy day if I work for less than 10 hours. I’ve not had a lot of easy days. And meeting teachers across the District, I see that that is not an exception, that this kind of work is the norm, because with as little support as we get, it becomes impossible to do our jobs without that level of commitment. And I’m a new teacher, so I haven’t had to deal with frozen wages or unsupported graduate expenses like my colleagues.
We all say that our schools are in crisis. We are in crisis. And to the SRC, I say that I know that you did not create this crisis. We all know that. But as teachers, we say that you should be standing beside us. And to take the unprecedented step of backing out of negotiations…cancelling our contract…in a secret meeting? And then to stand by while your allies go on the airwaves – and you yourselves join them! – to call us the enemy? Saying we are not sharing in the sacrifice? It’s shameful. It’s tragic.
Furthermore – setting aside the fact that our Union has already said it is willing to negotiate on benefits, may I just say: Dr. Hite called this "sharing in the sacrifice as we’re trying to navigate tough fiscal times," but let me be clear. This is not just about “tough fiscal times.” Teachers unions are perhaps the most publicly vilified professional group in the country -- any sacrifices made in "tough fiscal times" will NOT be restored when times get better. And we all know this to be true.
One of the most profound honors of being a teacher is getting to work alongside colleagues who are some of the most selfless, dedicated, intelligent people I have ever met. Teachers sacrifice every day to keep our contracts with our students. But our contract with you can be erased – just like that? What message does that send to our students? What message does that send about our city? I’m ashamed of this body’s actions. How can YOU not be?