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State, teachers' union reluctant to provide dollars for city schools

By by Benjamin Herold and Holly Otterbein for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on May 16, 2013 08:49 PM

On Wednesday, Mayor Nutter announced his plan to raise $95 million for Philadelphia's struggling School District, mostly through tax hikes on cigarettes and alcohol.

But even if that money comes through, city schools will still be looking for an additional $120 million from Harrisburg and $133 million in givebacks from the local teachers' union.

Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), who chairs the Senate's education committee, said the unions have to go first.

"Philadelphia is trying to care for their business at home," Folmer said. "They're looking at concessions and such. Get that done, and then we'll see what needs to be done in additional [state] funding."

Not surprisingly, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan has a different view.

"To come and ask us now to bear the brunt of taking pay cuts in order to balance the budget, I mean, that's just wrong," Jordan said. "We need the state to not only provide adequate funding. We need the state to provide a funding formula ... so we are not in this spot every year."

District officials, facing a $304 million budget shortfall for next year, say they need a "shared sacrifice" in order to prevent schools from opening in September with no guidance counselors, librarians, secretaries, assistant principals, gifted programs, supply budgets or sports.

Even coming up with the city's portion of the District's request will be difficult. Passing the state legislation needed for the city to tax cigarettes, increase its liquor-by-the-drink tax, and place liens on the out-of-county properties of individuals who are delinquent in Philadelphia is not a sure thing.

And that's the easy part.

Tight times in Harrisburg

Nutter, who has made several trips to Harrisburg on the District's behalf, said lawmakers there have noticed that the School District has closed schools, slashed its central office, and extracted huge concessions from its lowest-paid workers in order to shore up its budget.

"The [School Reform Commission] and [Superintendent] Dr. Hite are getting very, very high reviews because of the tough and difficult choices that they are making," Nutter said.

But even some state lawmakers who acknowledge those steps, including Folmer, remain skeptical of sending more money to Philadelphia schools.

"Somehow, we've got to get this educational industrial complex that we created under control," said Folmer. "The question is, 'Do we restore funding, or do we have the guts to look at existing spending and prioritize how we're doing that spending?'"

Just finding the money in Harrisburg could be difficult, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Senate Republicans.

Pennsylvania's Independent Fiscal Office recently estimated that the state will be $220 million short by the end of the year, said Arneson.

And with school districts across the state struggling, he argued, it's implausible to give money to Philadelphia schools alone.

Arneson acknowledged that one possible way to generate some funds would be to restore the so-called "charter reimbursement," cut by Gov. Corbett two years ago.

But coming up with the full $120 million requested by the SRC is probably not a realistic outcome, he said: "From my position, sitting here today, I don't see how it can be achieved."

'Shared sacrifice'

Making matters even more complicated, some key leaders in Harrisburg want distribution of whatever state money is found to be contingent on an overhaul of the School District's contract with its teachers.

"There won't be any more money for the status quo. There can't be," said Charles Zogby, Corbett's budget secretary.

Jordan, of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, bristled at that stance. He said teachers should not be held responsible for closing the District's budget gap.

"The PFT has never had a part in the District's budgeting, nor have we had any say in spending," Jordan said. "The PFT did not create these deficits."

Jordan also rejected the notion of "shared sacrifice" espoused by the District. He said Philadelphia teachers now make less than their suburban counterparts despite working under tougher conditions, regularly spend hundreds of dollars out of their pockets to improve their classrooms, and already made substantial concessions to help ease the District's budget woes in recent years.

"The PFT has been engaged in 'shared sacrifice' with the School District for a number of years," Jordan said. "Unfortunately, the sacrifices that have taken place do not help children."

The finger-pointing and foot-dragging elsewhere isn't likely to sit well with members of City Council, who already feel burned after coming up with millions for the District in each of the last two years, only to see the state's contribution go down.

"At the end of the day, there continues to be this underlying issue, the 'gorilla in the room,'" Council President Darrell Clarke said yesterday after Nutter's announcement. "Where are the additional dollars that will come from the state of Pennsylvania?"

This story was reported through a partnership in education coverage between WHYY/NewsWorks and the Notebook. Dale Mezzacappa contributed reporting.

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Comments (39)

Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 16, 2013 10:39 pm
PFT members and other concerned citizens need to SWARM the mailbox of Sen. Folmer for his ridiculous statements. My blood is boiling. The state cut the funding, that's the problem! The SDP can't legally force enrollment caps on charters! Responses may not change his mind, but at least he will hear from people on the ground here in Philadelphia. Send him a message: http://senatorfolmer.com/connect.htm. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 6:45 pm
EGS---Now you're getting the hang of it. Abusers need to be stopped, not given more time to abuse.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 7:00 pm
Thanks Joe. Unfortunately, I've also seen some District employees who verbally abuse their students and/or are completely incompetent. I also work for a principal who is a very nice person, but provides very poor leadership. So the PFT and CASA don't get off scot-free. That said, Joe, the greater abuse is from the powers that be who want to cut education to the bone. For the powers-that-be who oppose unions, if these powerful individuals had consciences which influenced their actions to an appreciable degree with regard to funding the School District of Philadelphia, they would go about this situation differently. These individuals would not make funding contingent upon concessions, but would work more proactively and in good faith with the union to make changes. Unfortunately, the hatred of unions is so strong among some politicians that they will throw the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, they will let the children suffer in order to achieve the purpose of busting the union. This is completely and utterly wrong and is an egregious example of putting the interests of adults ahead of the interests of children. Furthermore, many of these children come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have special needs. As I said in a comment to on another article on here, if people in Harrisburg refer to Philadelphia as a cesspool, they are true to a certain point. There's a lot of nepotism, monkey business, back-scratching, and so on happening in this city. But it's happening in Harrisburg and elsewhere too. But when politicians would rather see children of color end up in prison than well-educated because this is more profitable to these politicians and their buddies, I am incensed. When politicians would rather see children of color end up in prison because it means that as adults, these children won't be voting for Democrats for some period of time or for the rest of their lives, the hearts of these politicians are moral cesspools. They are closet racists who don't give a rat's behind about children of color like the ones with whom I work. This kind of racism is the reason that the Republican party will continue to lose ground in this country. They are digging their own grave. Any of these legislators who claims to be a Christian needs to go to Matthew and read The Judgment of the Nations (25: 31-46): "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me." And if these legislators don't see Jesus in the faces of the children of Philadelphia, then they can answer to their Heavenly Father on Judgement Day. EGS
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 7:40 pm
And Joe, I forgot to add this. When it comes to Dr. Hite, he is, in my mind, the ultimate tool. He is that epithet that comes from the Harriet Beecher Stowe book. (I don't feel like putting it out there bluntly, but you know what I mean.) I didn't like Dr. Ackerman, but I would take her any day over Dr. Hite. Why? Because he is so slick, covert, and calculated. He is so condescending and nonchalant about his disrespect. Cut counselors entirely and cut more nurses, meaning that teachers have more responsibilities. And then, at the same time, ask teachers and other PFT members to work a longer day, pay even more for supplies, AND take a pay cut? IT's so ridiculous, it's just laughable. But it's by design. At least with Dr. Ackerman, she couldn't get out of her own way. Textbook example: Saying "It's about the children" while riding off with a $905,000 buyout. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 7:19 pm
I am in complete agreement with you...................but I would leave Religion out of it. Just sayin. You hit all the right bases perfectly--Classism, Racism, Money Making without regard to either. Hite is the proverbial "wort on the ass of life" and I say that with all the christian charity I can muster. Actually, most democratic politicians are not against unions and rely on the union vote very much. Obama, the long legged MacDaddy, as Rev. James Manning calls him, is eel slick and a sell out so he is the exception. He pandered for votes when he needed them but stayed far, far, far away when Scott Walker decimated the unions in Wisconsin. Nutter is ..............well, you know what he is.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 8:46 pm
I had to put the Christian piece in there because so many of these politicians from both parties claim to be devout Christians and say "God Bless America." I had to speak their language for a minute, Joe. As for Nutter, he might benefit from some more lessons on Christian charity from the nuns who taught him at Transfiguration and St. Joe's Prep. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 8:57 pm
Remember what Ghandi said, "I admire Christ but those Christians.........!!.." Yes, it really makes you wish for retroactive abortion when these slithering types wax theological. I contend that too much of anything is likely bad for you, except, of course, good pizza and 1 or 2 other things that I shan't mention. Also galling, is when these gibronies wear 30 or 40 flag lapels and wax patriotic. They're almost always of the same ilk. Who was it who said," Patriotism is the last vestige of a scoundrel ?" In summary, yes, they make me sick with all their hypocritical, pompous, phony bull.... as they run to church 100 miles an hour. And I told you to leave Religion out of it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!???????????
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:07 pm
Joe, I was trying to reply to your last post, but alas, it seems to have disappeared from the notebook. Your comments above are both compelling as well as entertaining. You must be Irish, you seem to be able to balance the horror of it all with a decent (albeit dry and sarcastic as hell) sense of humor. OK, I suppose we should keep both ethnicity as well as religion out of it !!! With regard to the removed post: I agree the students alone aren't enough. But don't forget Joe. They do have parents. They need to be encouraged to grow their ranks. At my school today there was a sense of divisiveness among the teachers about the propriety of students leaving instructional time to march. Ironic, as they missed over 60% instructional time this week to allow other students to take Keystone exams. I am convinced this divisiveness is expected and welcomed by Dr Hite and his friends in Harrisburg. As the future for these students is betrayed on a daily basis by the adults in leadership in Philly, Harrisburg, and Washington, it is imperative that the students sharpen their understanding of history of conflict and expand their tools to broaden the response in the communities. They have the intelligence. They have the technological skills to maximize the response. They need to recognize the relentless nature of the battle. They need to be aware of the fear-based society we live in- and remain steadfast in speaking up for the rights they are entitled to. It is clear that their involvement is necessary. It is clear that their involvement is not sufficient. Joe, please do not dismiss the possibility that the actions of the youth of the city could begin to turn things around. As usual, I await your measured response. In solidarity and with respect, a PFT colleague
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:01 pm
Of course, you are right............... but we--the adults-- need a sense of urgency that we don't seem to have right now. You are also right that Hite and the other scoundrels, love the bickering among PFT members. Yes, The Notebook does have a bit of Fox News to it but hey, the trains must go through and be on time. I didn't mean to demean the kids' actions but rather I was excoriating the adults' inactions--if that is a word.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 18, 2013 1:13 pm
Joe, That phrase "a sense of urgency" comes right out of the mouth of Scott Gordon.... I just had to say that. EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 4:58 pm
OUCH-----I didn't know that. I was paraphrasing J.F. Kennedy. I knew John F. Kennedy and Scotty 2 shoes Gordon is no John F. Kennedy.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 18, 2013 4:06 pm
That's okay Joe, I knew what your intent was! However, "a sense of urgency" is one of these philosophies to which CMOs like Mastery and KIPP ascribe.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 12:39 am
Nobody wants to be the first to fund the SDP, not the city,not the state not the PFT.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 7:34 am
The PFT does not fund they schools. They work for the schools. They also demand decent pay and working conditions for some of the most difficult teaching jobs in the state.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 17, 2013 1:47 am
How about the State negotiate a concession from the Health Care providers for public school employees? When you've got an increase in "average teacher cost" of 30% in two years from health care premiums, and teachers are not seeing any increase in salary, that's definitely a taxpayer problem that has nothing to do with an isolated "industrial complex".
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 17, 2013 3:07 am
Great suggestion, Ms. Chen!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 7:52 am
District is already self-insured as is permitted under state law. Only savings would be reduction in District contributions to union health & welfare plans which provide dental, perscripton, and vision benefits to represented members. These controbutions dictated by union contract which does not expire until 8/31/13.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:32 am
It is not inconceivable that with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, and the infusion of cash that the Health Insurance industry (and this is an industrial complex) expects, that they can make a concession for public workers. It could be common ground/agreement for Republicans, who seem to be overwhelmingly concerned about controlling costs, and Democrats who want government to meet "public good" obligations.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:33 am
You're worried about healthcare premiums now? How poetic! I never heard any complaints when you weren't expected to pay a dime towards them. We have doctors that make 3x what doctors make in any other country. Our own pharma companies charge us 3-6 times what they charge other countries. 40% of our population is obese and requires constant medical care. You're getting it now?
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on May 17, 2013 12:27 pm
I am a parent, not a teacher. I am only pointing out what I saw when I looked at my school budget which was a nearly 30% increase in the amount that had to be budgeted for a teacher in just 2 years. This was not from wage increases, but mostly from increased healthcare costs. This has been slid in at taxpayer expense. We have not heard "peep" from Harrisburg or even the SDP about this, have we? What needs to be noted is that healthcare costs have not been seen as negotiable, when they should be. Are teachers in a position to negotiate these? I think not. Rather it should be the taxpayer and the lawmaker. Unfortunately, the Healthcare Insurance industry has a lot of lobbying power. I agree with your sense of outrage at the out-of-control cost of our healthcare system. The Healthcare Insurance industry adds to this injury by justifying unaffordable premiums with an oppressive business model. If there is an "industrial complex" villain, they are it.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 7:43 pm
I believe that PFT members should contribute to their healthcare. Most public and private sector employees do. As a new PFT member, I pay toward my health care. All PFT members should. Many people in my building can support paying toward health care. Now when it comes to salaries or wages, the PFT should stand firm and give back NOT ONE DIME in pay. Teachers in Philadelphia, especially veteran teachers, make considerably less than veteran teachers in neighboring districts while at the same time paying more of their own money for supplies and working with some of the toughest students who come from some of the toughest circumstances in the entire state. EGS
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on May 17, 2013 3:23 am
The Commonwealth of PA should start saving by slashing the PA Legislature. "According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Pennsylvania had the largest full-time and second most expensive legislative branch in the nation. " The only state that has a more expensive legislature is California. California's population is 38, 050,000; Pennsylvania's population is 12,760,000. The legislators receive an annual cost of living increase which averages 3%/year. Also, Governor Corbett is the highest paid governor in the U.S. So, let the PA Legislature stop receiving cost of living increases. Cut the number of senators and representatives. Reduce their staff by half. Stop allowing nepotism to rule in hiring of legislative staff. Make legislators pay for their own paper, mailings, phone, etc. Cut Corbett's staff. Then, the Commonwealth executive and legislative branches can make suggestions for contract negotiations in Philadelphia.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 3:07 pm
Amen.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on May 17, 2013 7:38 pm
Great point, PPT! Fat chance that this will happen, but it's a good point to pass along to Jerry Jordan and building reps. EGS
Submitted by Robert Scherf (not verified) on May 19, 2013 6:29 am
This is just one step in many that need to be taken. Take a look at some of these facts. Los Angeles has 4 million people that live in this city, Philadelphia has 1.5 million people. LA's city council has 15 members, Philly has 17 city council members. This is just one of the many problems that exist today in politics in this city. Why does anyone believe that the politicians who made the problem are the ones that are going to fix it? Why did corbutt buy his wife a new suv with tax payers money when he was elected?
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on May 17, 2013 6:19 am
"Somehow, we've got to get this educational industrial complex that we created under control," said (Senator Mike) Folmer. "So now we describe the people who provide professional services to the students as if we are an "industrial complex" that has to go? Counselors? Nurses? Librarians? Secretaries? Music teachers? Coaches? Support staff? I've watched the district attempt to replace lost nurse hours with student nurses although if asked they are loathe to admit it. But see how often they are quoted in the paper that our "university partners" are going to save the day. Staying on top of preserving the quality of services our students need and deserve is becoming an extra full time job.
Submitted by rob (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:54 am
Not to mention that Tomalis is leaving the role of Secretary of Education but staying on as a 'special adviser' and making the same salary. This is a political power play -its all about the money of unions countering conservative causes. http://articles.philly.com/2013-05-16/news/39312915_1_tomalis-corbett-ch...
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:51 am
So why don't we just be honest here and say that the governor and the legislature wants to break the union. Once the union is broken, the money will return - and flow into charter schools. Why don't we also be honest and admit that a largely white, Republican legislature is not interested in providing quality education for poor, minority students? And why don't we also be honest and admit that a legislature that would happily restrict access to abortion and contraception is virulently anti-child? What kind of people sit around and play dangerous games with the lives of children? People who deserve not to be elected next term.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 17, 2013 10:53 am
BINGO-----You get it all, my friend. You said it better than I ever could and said it without the expletives that flow so easily from my dirty mouth.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on May 17, 2013 1:46 pm
Yes, crisis my butt!! Corbett and the other Tea party type cretins under the direction of the shot callers, are destroying the Public Schools in the inner cities of the USA. It's all orchestrated and energized so unions and the overall middle class can be dissolved. Charters are a big part of that business model and the crooked politicians are, of course, complicit too. Unless the working people of this country, both union and non union, want the corporations to turn back the clock 125 years, we better stand and fight. Giving these slithering types the benefit of the doubt or thinking that they "wouldn't do that" are making a fatal mistake. They will, they have in the past and they'll do it again--now--if we continue to play mouse and look the other way.
Submitted by Tymir (not verified) on May 17, 2013 8:36 pm
Michael Nutter is a Democrat and doesn't care about about minority students either. Actions speak louder than words. He colluded with the Republicans in destroying public education. Yet he was elected to a second term. What does that say about the intelligence of our citizens? The PFT endorsed him; he chooses members of the SRC. What does this say about our own involvement in what has resulted here in this city? I wonder if Chiagoans laugh at us.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:45 pm
Tymir---great Post and I'll go one further; If Nutter ran again tomorrow, he'd win again and again and..............You just can't make this stuff up !! Was it Patton who said, "We have met the enemy and it is we." Maybe it was Custer?? Na, he would have never admitted that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:21 am
So why don't we just be honest here and say that the governor and the legislature wants to break the union. Once the union is broken, the money will return - and flow into charter schools. Why don't we also be honest and admit that a largely white, Republican legislature is not interested in providing quality education for poor, minority students? And why don't we also be honest and admit that a legislature that would happily restrict access to abortion and contraception is virulently anti-child? What kind of people sit around and play dangerous games with the lives of children? People who deserve not to be elected next term.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 17, 2013 4:22 pm
Can you say Scott Walker? We have a budget crisis (which we created), and hey, while we're at it, why don't we just take away all of the workers' collective bargaining rights? It is disgraceful that Dr. Hite would refer to the school district and the city as a "cesspool". The students, parents and teachers who are fighting to save public education are not a cesspool. He needs to apologize. Lisa Haver
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 17, 2013 6:24 pm
Lisa--Hite is getting very sure of himself and why shouldn't he?? So far, he and his cronies have met very little real resistance and by the way, not for nothin, but a bunch of kids at 440, while noble and heartwarming, ain't the answer. we both know what needs to be done to stop this carpet bombing of our kids and worker rights and it ain't playing mouse.
Submitted by Jane (not verified) on May 17, 2013 9:53 pm
I agree. It is an outrage that a city school district be referred to as a "cesspool." These are people's lives we are talking about, children and families who depend on public schools. Shame on Harrisburg and Dr. Hite.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2013 1:38 am
The city of Philadelphia is a cesspool. Highest city taxes in the US and these taxes buy one of the most ineffective unproductive public sectors. So incompetent, they can't even collect property taxes. Do teachers get disproportionate blame? They do. But as long as the priority of Philadelphia's political machine is protecting headcount (more voters, more campaign money), like making sure the district keeps 2 bus drivers employed to do what 1 bus driver does in the rest of the US, no one will have sympathy for sending us more money.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on May 18, 2013 6:15 pm
The only advantage to the school district to doing away seniority is to paint a target on the teachers who are drawing the highest salaries which are still considerably less than they would draw in the suburbs. we used to joke that the lack of parent involvement meant that during report card parent discussion time you could talk to other teachers, grade papers and catch up grading papers. I had 165 students on my roll and my largest turn out was 11. I was shocked my usual was 5-6. Oh yes the parents who came were immigrant mothers who kids were doing fine. The students who threatened me with their parents never showed. That is the big key total lack of parental involvement. My parents were poor working class but never ever missed a report card conference guess that's why sister has a Ph.d and I have 3 masters plus. oh yeah pushing out the senior experienced teachers will save some money but will do nothing to change the learning climate that has to come from home.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on May 18, 2013 7:36 pm
Education on the cheap, you are correct. All the extra money will go to the pols and their charter groupies. They can't even remotely bring this cancer to the affluent suburbs where parents are front and center and organized. So they focus like a laser beam on the poor and marginalized citizens of the inner cities. They deserve................well, you already know what they deserve.

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