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Phila. Teacher Pact Blasted in City Council Report

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Copyright 1982 School-district administrators, city officials, and teachers' union representatives in Philadelphia have long agreed that the crucial element in any long-term solution to the school system's financial woes lies in a comprehensive, multi-year pact between the school board and the 21,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (pft).

Today, however, that goal remains as elusive as it was last November, when the Philadelphia Board of Education and the pft reopened contract negotiations following a bitter strike that delayed the start of the current school year by 50 days.

A tentative agreement between the two parties, worked out late last month, has run into strong opposition from both the city council and the city's business community. It has been given little chance of survival in its current form.

Reaction Tested

School-board members have not officially adopted the new teachers' contract--which they say will cost the city an additional $182.8 million during the next four years, leaving the financially strapped school system with a $48-million deficit by 1985. Instead, they have opted to test city officials' reaction to it before voting on the matter.

Philadelphia's complex school-finance regulations give the city council and the mayor the single option of either rejecting or accepting the school system's budget, most of which is devoted to items currently under negotiation with the teachers' union. A staff member in one councilman's office, however, said that there was "no way that the council will accept this package."

Efforts last year by school officials to cut back a $236-million budget deficit by ordering massive teacher layoffs and by canceling a promised 10 percent pay increase for pft members prompted last fall's strike.

The teacher walkout was halted on Oct. 28 by a court decision order-ing the teachers to return to their classrooms.

The court order also invalidated the existing teachers' contract because the school system lacked the money to meet its obligations under it as well as the means to raise additional funds to do so, bringing the school board and the union back to the bargaining table.

Their tentative agreement calls for a 10-percent wage increase for teachers effective in March 1982 but not payable until September, no raise in 1982-83, two 5-percent raises in 1983-84, and a 4-percent raise in 1984-85. The agreement also includes the possibility of an additional 4-percent raise in the last year of the contract if the cost of living exceeds 20 percent during the last two years covered by the contract.

In addition, the tentative agreement limits future cuts in instructional staff to attrition and a formula based on declining enrollment. The proposal also calls on the school board to pay the full amount of pft members' medical and health insurance benefits. (The school board currently pays 60 percent of those premiums.)

Under the proposal, union demands that pft members be paid in full for time lost during the strike would be settled by an arbitrator. A settlement in favor of the union could cost the school district an additional $31 million in back pay for teachers, according to a report issued by the city council's technical staff.

Philadelphia's city charter, which requires the school system to operate under a balanced budget, prohibits the school board from levying or collecting taxes to fund the school system.

That responsibility lies with the mayor and city council, giving them the final say on any agreement between the school board and the teachers' union. The city now contributes approximately $750 million annually to the school system.

The city council, however, has no power to amend the school system's budget, but only the option of either approving it or turning it down. A bill that would give the council direct control of--and auditing power over--the school system's budget was introduced this month in the council.

Another bill, before the state legislature, would abolish the current school board and replace it with a governing body that would be directly responsible to the mayor's office.

Highly Critical

The city council's staff report on the teachers' pact, which will be used by council members when they decide whether or not to fund the contract, is highly critical of the proposal. Council members and Mayor William J. Green repeatedly said during the strike last fall that they would refuse to accept an agreement between the school board and the teachers' union which they felt did not fully address the school system's long-term financial problems.

"Basically, nothing has changed," the council report says. "The school district proposes to continue on the same fiscal basis, taking into account inflation and counting on a deficit as usual."

According to a council staff member who asked not to be identified, the school board's willingness to accept a pact that guarantees to keep the school system operating with a deficit "was the main problem city council had with the proposal."

"Council will not stand by and allow the school board to continue red-ink spending," the staff member said.

He added that the staff report indicated that "under a worst-case scenario" the projected budget deficit could balloon to more than $429.5 million by 1985--nearly double the amount that precipitated last year's fiscal crisis and almost 10 times the amount cited in the proposed contract.

The report criticizes the school board for not exacting concessions from the union on the questions of teacher-preparation time, teacher absenteeism, and class size. Under the proposed contract, discussion of those issues have been delegated to special review committees composed of both union and school-board members.

The council staff member also said that council members would probably require the school board to demand future teacher layoffs "above and beyond the provisions for declining student enrollment and teacher attrition."

The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce has also voiced its opposition to the proposed contract, focusing on the tax increases that would be necessary to fund it.

"With any further tax increases imposed on the business community, you are going to get resistance that is not reflected in any loud outcry or any demonstrations at City Hall," said W. Thatcher Longstreth, president of the Chamber of Commerce. "Businessmen move with their feet. They just pick up and go."

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