The Numbers Don't Lie: De Facto Pay Cuts and Making Sense of Political Games

By Klint Kanopka

One of the reoccurring themes in this entire budget crisis is that the teachers need to “step up” and do their part.  This is a thinly coded demand for monetary concessions, but we’ve done that already and with significant savings for the district.  The proposed contract includes salary decreases for all staff on a sliding scale from 5-13%.  The state government, the SRC and the School District of Philadelphia seem to think it is reasonable to balance their budget by looking to their employees as a revenue stream, but they’ve chosen to ignore the contributions that have already been imposed on the PFT, which I’ll attempt to quantify below.

First, some background on how dire the budget is, as school is set to open in under a month.  The current $81 mil budget cap is about 3% of the school district’s overall budget.  One of the plans that’s been proposed is holding school until the money runs out, but there hasn’t been a clear assessment of what that might look like.  When you subtract out costs that don’t reduce with time (rents, charter payments, central office, building engineers, utilities, etc.) and assume an even distribution of the remainder, you arrive at a cost of about $6.75 million per instructional day.  Without the $81 mil, the SDP has 93.5% of its remaining time-dispersed budget.  This equates to a loss of 12 instructional days, moving the end date for the year to June 2nd.  This might not sound awful, but it’s 6.7% of the entire school year.  However, it may be worth chopping off the last 12 days of the year in order to prevent schools from having to absorb the newest suggestion of cuts of staff and services.

The alternative proposal, which looks, at least, postponed for now, is to lay off staff and increase class sizes into the 40’s.  Those of us working in schools know that this is essentially impossible, from space constraints (many teach in rooms that can barely fit the 33 students they already have) to a compounded inability to reach and meet students’ social, emotional and academic needs.

So let’s get back to Chairman Green and Governor Corbett’s telling the PFT to “step up” and give additional concessions in order to close the deficit (caused primarily through state funding cuts and administrative mismanagement, but I digress). 

To assist the district, in 2013 the teachers’ union agreed to skip their yearly salary increases, known as step raises.  The average step increase, calculated from the salary schedule, is $2862.63.  For the 13-14 school year, there were 18,390 teachers employed in the district.  That year we saved the district about $52,643,827, a figure that could have bought nearly eight instructional days.  This savings is reoccurring, because every year the teachers are earning less than they should be.  

For the coming 14-15 academic year, considering the step raise we already skipped and the new one we probably won’t get, the district will be able to save $105,287,654.  This figure is 4% of the district’s total operating budget, 23% more than the current deficit and accounts of an amount that would pay for almost 16 instructional days.  Every time we forego step increases, the savings compounds.

If I look at my own salary, I’ve already given back in the form of 1) a missed step raise, 2) no high-needs subject bonus (meant to attract physics, math and chemistry teachers) and 3) no recognition of the Master’s degree I completed in December.  If I compare my actual earnings to my expected salary for the 13-14 school year, I’ve already taken my 10% pay cut.  This doesn’t even factor in the loss of compensation for the debate team I coach or the hours I spent tutoring students.  Let’s also ignore the 5% of my salary I spent on supplies for my classroom, lab and extracurricular activities.

Viewed uncritically, the language used to frame these cuts might make them appear more palatable to the public, but the people pitching them aren’t conceding over one quarter of their six-figure salaries.  For teachers who earn less than our suburban counterparts and are forced to purchase all of our own teaching supplies, these cuts have a massive impact on our homes and classrooms.  Cuts that are being spun to “save our schools” are actually the exact cause of death for extracurricular activities, hands-on inquiry investigation, and classroom innovation.  

Today, the SDP took a small step in the right direction by taking additional salary reductions off the negotiating table. However, there was zero mention of the millions already saved by these de facto cuts, or any discussion of when they might be restored. In a situation where the future of our children and city are at stake, what sense does it make to demonize and exploit the very people, the working educators, who step up to bat for them every day?  Maybe the state thinks they can sit on their hands and demand more from those giving the most, but the numbers don’t lie.  We can’t afford it.

Klint Kanopka is a physics teacher at the Academy at Palumbo.