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.