To the Editor:
As a Philadelphia public school teacher, I find it difficult to imagine that the plans advocated by Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania are anything but politically motivated under the guise of educational reform (“Fiscal Clouds Swirl Around Philadelphia Schools,” Aug. 21, 2013). Gov. Corbett’s administration is seeking to withhold $45 million in state aid until it sees a new teachers’ contract in the city that makes substantial progress toward achieving fiscal savings.
Asking the teachers’ union to make concessions conveniently ignores the fact that the union contract that was set to expire Sept. 1, along with the two previous ones, was approved by the state via its agency in the Philadelphia district, the School Reform Commission. In essence, the state was a principal actor in creating the very drama it is now manipulating for its own ends.
Additionally, the district’s anticipated $133 million in concessions from the union seems implausible in light of financial circumstances.
Philadelphia public school teachers are already paid less than their suburban peers, and any concessions will ultimately include wage and benefits cuts. Charter school teachers are not immune to these negotiations; they are paid less than their colleagues employed by the city’s school district. The collective bargaining agreement, I would argue, effectively establishes an unofficial teaching wage for the entire city. Moreover, state law mandates that charter school employees receive benefits comparable to those of their district counterparts.
The state and the Philadelphia school district often bemoan an inability to find exceptional teachers who can overcome the urban achievement gap. However, their policies seem to fly in the face of basic economics and embody a general hostility toward teachers. The best teachers eschew a volatile environment that includes understaffed and underfunded schools in an unstable school district that pays some of the lowest wages in the region.
Now it appears that rather than cultivating sustainability, Harrisburg is more interested in managing the decline of the state’s largest school district.
Charter High School for Architecture and Design
A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2013 edition of Education Week as Teacher Questions Governor’s Fiscal Plans for Philadelphia