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Corbett's rescue plan sets the stage for attack on teachers' union

By Ron Whitehorne on Jul 3, 2013 11:23 AM

The Corbett rescue plan for Philadelphia's schools, forged by the likes of Comcast vice president David Cohen, Philadelphia School Partnership's Mark Gleason, and the Chamber of Commerce, sets the stage for a full-court press to wring concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The corporate education reformers will press their case for concessions and for implementing a business model of school management without the impediments of a union contract. The mantra will be: City Hall and Harrisburg stepped up; now it's time for the teachers' union to do its part.

The current crisis, in the minds of the corporate reformers, is an opportunity to advance their austerity and privatization agenda. Repeatedly, we are told that everybody must pitch in to make ends meet in these difficult times. The austerity argument begins with the plea for shared sacrifice.

Who created the crisis?

Let’s start with the premise. This crisis is not an act of God but a man-made disaster fashioned by the governor and his allies, who are deeply hostile to public education. They very deliberately slashed the education budget and abandoned the "costing-out" formula that led to some equity in distributing state funding to local districts. Politically, and morally, they bear the responsibility for the dilemma we face.  

Secondly, calls for sacrifice have been highly selective. Corporations, banks, and mega-nonprofits have not been asked by the mayor or the governor to step up to help fund the schools. The Use and Occupancy tax reform bill, which would have cancelled a big reduction in property taxes for corporate landlords, was rejected by City Council. Tax abatements for developers remain in place. The Republican-dominated legislature continued the Corbett policy of reducing corporate taxes and has until now resisted closing the tax shelter-enabling "Delaware loophole." Banks were not challenged to renegotiate school debt or refund some of the huge profits they made on bad-interest swap deals with the city and the District. Nonprofits that now can be taxed on their non-charitable operations still pay nothing. In the political calculus of both hard-right Gov. Corbett and neo-liberal Democrats like Mayor Nutter, these folks are off-limits.

But teachers and other school employees are fair game. Never mind that we are talking about a public service here that should be funded by everyone because everyone shares in its benefits. Instead, the School District is treated like a bankrupt airline, where workers are gouged for the benefit of the bondholders. School employees, under the District’s plan, are being asked to give more than the city and the state, in the form of wage, benefit, and work-rule concessions.

Philadelphia teachers already sacrifice

Philadelphia teachers particularly resent the call for sacrifice, because they are already among the lowest-paid in the region, a gap that has grown larger over the last 20 years. They already have larger classes, higher numbers of special-needs children, and more challenging working conditions in comparison to suburban counterparts. They already spend out of their pockets to equip their classes with supplies and materials.

Other school employees in cafeteria service, maintenance, and other support functions include workers who are living at or below the poverty line. They have little to give.

These concessions, if implemented, will have serious, long-term impact on the quality of education in our schools. Experienced teachers, particularly the most qualified, will depart the city rather than take a 13 percent wage cut along with all the other concessions. Teachers facing larger classes and extra assignments will be less able to meet the needs of their students. For all these reasons, trying to wring huge amounts of money from school employees is both unfair and terrible policy. It is not possible to claim the mantle of advocating for improved education and simultaneously support these cuts.

Austerity is not the only agenda here. The other aim is to weaken and neutralize unions as obstacles to transforming schools by adopting the management practices of businesses. The Philadelphia School Partnership has aggressively promoted a plan that would give principals and the District unfettered power to hire and transfer teachers without regard to seniority. They have sought to make this a condition for the state's releasing new funds, as well as pressing for the District to make this a focus of bargaining.  

The rise in influence of this organization should be a source of concern to everyone who supports democratic governance. There is limited transparency in the source of its funds, and we don’t know how it decides to dispense them. What is apparent is that PSP uses philanthropy as leverage to advance the corporate school reform agenda. Ordinary citizens, without the right to elect School District leadership, are left to testify and protest, while corporate elites and self-proclaimed philanthropists call the shots.

Like any organization or citizen, PSP is free to advocate changes that its leaders believe should be made in the PFT contract. However, by seeking to make the release of funds contingent on these changes, they are striking at the heart of collective bargaining.    

The evidence that the reforms advocated by the PSP and its supporters in the advocacy community will improve educational outcomes is suspect. It comes mainly from reports from places like the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group funded by Gates Foundation money with a board that reads like a Who’s Who of corporate reformers: Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Wendy Kopp, among others.

Funding remains critical question

The main focus of public education advocates right now needs to be getting the resources that can avert further cuts in classrooms and schools. That needs to include labor contracts that will at least do no harm. No layoffs of teachers or support personnel, no cuts in compensation that will drive experienced and qualified teachers out of the District, no work-rules changes that will undercut teaching and learning. We need to support teachers, because we understand that their working conditions are student learning conditions.  

The Harrisburg rescue package falls well short of this. We need to press the case for more funding at every level. We need to press U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to match his words of support with material aid, not merely technical support. We need to demand that City Council reconvene and get back to work, especially because their rejection of Use and Occupancy tax reform was predicated on the assumption that Harrisburg would pass the cigarette tax. And we need to continue to demand that the state live up to its constitutional obligation to provide its citizens with a "thorough and efficient system of public education." 

The response from defenders of public education and collective bargaining must be to support a teacher contract that is fair to teachers and good for students and continue to press the city and state to live up to its obligation for full and fair funding for our schools.

Ron Whitehorne is a retired teacher and is on the steering committee of the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS).

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (42)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 12:54 pm
Thank you.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on July 3, 2013 1:50 pm
Thank you. Well said.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 7:20 am
What really needs to happen is that we need to turn Philly into a Recovery School District like New Orleans. They are now outpacing the state in performance growth.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 8:56 am
You are misinformed about New Orleans charters. It's another myth.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on July 3, 2013 1:47 pm
You Got it Right. It has Obama's Blessing since the $45 million in forgiven funds will be used as the cudgel to beat the PFT into submission. We give out dues to two faced Democratic Politicians to kill us. Why Jerry Why?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 2:03 pm
Why is everybody so shocked here? The $133 million was part of the deal from the get-go. Money doesn't flow from the state and particularly the feds without strings attached. It's crystal clear, the dems want to privatize public education. You can say what you want about republicans, but they are upfront with you. You get what you vote for with these democrats. I'd say Chicago Public Schools (more like Chicago Private Schools) are finding out more and more about their "hidden" agenda.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on July 3, 2013 3:20 pm
Our Dues fund the people who destroy us. Watch same thing will happen in 2014. In fact we get dissolved in 2015 they will hand any remaining PFT funds over to Hillary Clinton so she can complete the job in all big cities.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 7:58 pm
Poogie - I'm glad you snuffed it all out. The dems can't wait until '16 to elect HIllary. Speaking of Hillary, she wrote a book "It Takes A Village". Well, let's be honest about it, the village is dysfunctional. I wish the remaining folks out there will figure it like you and I have done as well.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on July 3, 2013 3:03 pm
Exactly Right, Ron !! Bingo !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 3:23 pm
Any idea what this amended fiscal code means. Someone tweeted about it and it said it includes $ for Philly schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 4:35 pm
Can the PFT sue the PSP and any others who interfere in their contract negotiations when they are non-profits? Does anyone know?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 11:41 pm
Yes, they can sue. No, they can't win. You can't stop outside lobbyists from trying to press their views on the collective bargaining process. The way to stop their influence is to expose them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 5:25 pm
Nice, Ron! :-D
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 7:41 pm
This post was very well said. I am also a retired Philadelphia school teacher and I'm trying to make some sense out of all this disgusting &verbiage. It was so obvious that all the blame would boil down to the "greedy" teachers. Hmm--is it such a coincidence that the negotiations for the teachers' contract and this financial embarrassment are going to come to a head at the same time. I think not. I could go on, but I just don't know what else can be said. To those of you who continue in the profession I loved for almost thirty years, I salute you, I respect what you do, and I sincerely hope that someone wakes up and gives you the compassion and respect that you deserve. Thanks.
Submitted by Parent (not verified) on July 3, 2013 7:02 pm
Teachers should get the upmost respect from everyone, Because of the dedication they take to be with our children's not 20 children but 30+ children they try to teach to everyday and most of the time there is behavior issues besides teaching they have to deal with. The point here is that it's all about the rich getting richer from the poor.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 8:40 pm
Collective bargaining should be outlawed for public sector workers. In private industry, if the unions are so shortsighted that they want to take their companies down, like the steel workers, the auto workers and the Hostess clowns did, so be it. But it should not be allowed when the taxpayer is on the other side and corrupt politicians pandering for votes decide their salaries.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 10:57 pm
Why should public sector employees not get collective bargaining? Because you don't like it? Most public sector (teachers) don't make that much money, especially in parts of Philadelphia. As to the Hostess debacle, step away from the faux news and find out it was the company that destroyed itself (2 bankruptcies, 75% to 80% Board and CEO raises in 2011 while company in financial jeopardy and unions giving up wages and pensions).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 10:41 pm
And the Hostess name will be back. Just without the unions, including the one obese baker who was on the news crying that he was only three months from retirement. At 46 years old!. And it will thrive.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 8:55 am
Hitler agreed with you. His first act after taking power in 1933 was to abolish unions. The workers then became true wage slaves and cannon fodder for his military adventures.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 8:52 am
Germany flourished until the war started. Who would have agreed with you would have been the likes of Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Kim Il Jung. Competition outlawed. Profit motive evil. That is the PFT's philosophy.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 1:02 pm
Germany flourished?? What, in setting up death camps for "undesirables". This was during the Depression. The only people who flourished were bankers and industrialists who also were instrumental in setting up the death camps. Wow, how politics and economic greed can distort the human mind! Thanks for showing everyone what your ideology is based on!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 1:19 pm
You obviously haven't read the history.
Submitted by Nina (not verified) on July 4, 2013 9:57 am
Tom-104 nice work. And so true. 1933 was the same year Hitler gave amnesty to all of the imprisoned members if the Nazi party. Unfirtunately, i don't see anyone waiting to give the children Philadelphia a reprieve! ! Much love to the teachers for doing what you do.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 10:55 am
Thanks. I also want to point out Anons comment that "Germany flourished until the war started." There is a direct connection between the Nazi's totalitarian approach to unions and "until the war started". It is the cause and effect found in all of nature. The agression against their own workers was turned into agression against their neighbors. It required the destruction of democracy to attack their workers and then their neighbors.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 9:18 pm
I applaud your efforts to fight the destruction of public education. I too am a retired teacher in Texas, and our legislature is attempting the same kinds of tricks. They cut education funding with one hand and give tax cuts to businesses with the other. We need a national "fight back" movement. I hope BAT will make a difference in the fight against charterizing public inner-city schools, which seems to be one of the major goals of the "reformers."
Submitted by Ellie (not verified) on July 4, 2013 11:33 am
BAT is great but nothing will change until the teachers change their unions like the Chicago teachers and now the Newark NJ teachers have done. It is only through strong social justice unionism that teachers and all public employee unions will win this battle. Citizens have to see their public employees as their allies in making life better for all who live in a city, county, and state. So Unions have to join forces with citizens to fight for quality schools and public services. Chicago teachers showed the way now it is up to other unions over throw union leadership that has gotten corrupt fat and lazy by selling out their members. I think BAT is good but it does not have the organizational ability that a union does and it is not local.
Submitted by pat (not verified) on July 3, 2013 10:59 pm
i dont see why these people who make millions of dollars and donate to charities and other things dont give some money to the schools.people like philly sports teams who we the fans help pay their salary buy buying tickets to their games.i just think their are people that make a whole bunch of money could help out. just my opinon.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 3, 2013 10:02 pm
Pat - There are a few school districts here near Pittsburgh that have foundations that are attached to the school districts typically with a school board member sitting on the foundation board. To be clear, they are not an independent foundation like you would think. Business donates money to the foundation. Usually, the business is located in the district There is much better accountability. To take it a step further, PTG associations raise money to help fund the schools, typically with technology upgrades, field trips, etc. Does this even happen in SDP? I'm not even talking about a PSP.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on July 4, 2013 5:29 am
It does happen for the SDP too. Some examples are the Middleton family which donated $5.7 million to increase access to CTE, the Cole Hamels Foundation which has given generously to several individual schools, and the Eagles Youth Partnership. Businesses of certain types have an advantage in that they can leverage their donations with State tax dollars from the EITC by giving to schools through an EIO. Probably the foundations you speak of attached to individual schools could qualify as EIOs. Philadelphia has outreach nonprofits, some stand-alone or attached to universities or Arts organizations that solicit donations from foundations and the community. They work in schools giving workshops, residencies, assemblies, or providing afterschool enrichment. On a smaller scale, savvy Home and Schools have been able to solicit donations from their community or grant applications. One, Greenfield's, even had the initiative to qualify as an EIO. None of these of course can change the structural budget problems the District currently has. I sympathize with the teachers in that this was not of their making.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 1:23 am
Many businesses give to schools. But charter schools where the money is well spent and has a greater impact.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 8:49 am
You are misinformed. If you are depending on the corporate media you have a distorted view of reality. Seek out independent sources who are not dependent on corporations to print their information. Along with finding independent sources develop your critical thinking skills so you are not just passing along corporate propaganda without knowing what you are talking about.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 10:02 am
tom-104 - You are wrong. I hear from folks like you that charter school CEO's make big time salaries (6 and 7 figures) and the charter school operates make big time profits. I wont disagree with that statement. Having said that, public schools spend per pupil more than charter schools and still there is not enough money for public schools to operate. You are lying to yourself if you think otherwise. The public school system needs to learn from the charter school system in a more "thorough and efficient" manner (notice the quotation marks) regarding how and where to spend money.
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 8:35 am
This is not news to anyone who is paying attention, but it is interesting to see Corbett give a rare interview where he expresses his view of what he is doing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan tells Pa. lawmakers to help Philadelphia schools avert crisis | The Republic from Columbus, Indiana by Kathy Matheson and Marc Levy – On Wednesday morning, Corbett told a radio interviewer that his staff had been in touch with Duncan in recent days. "I believed he was satisfied with what we were trying to do," he said during a regular appearance on the Dom Giordano Program on WPHT-AM in Philadelphia. Corbett then argued that the federal government is providing less than half the amount for school special educational costs that it had pledged years ago and that if it had kept that pledge, Pennsylvania would be in a better position to aid Philadelphia schools now. "So I think when federal government officials make those kind of statements they ought to take a close look at the fact that they have not been keeping the promises not that they made, but that their predecessors made," he said. Corbett, a booster of public school alternatives who has been heavily critical of teachers' unions, said the state must help take care of Philadelphia schoolchildren, but it also must contend with a Legislature full of people from the rest of Pennsylvania who are looking out for their school districts, too. In the meantime, the school district needs to go on a "fiscal diet" and his administration is dealing with decisions that should have been made over the last 20 or 30 years as the city's public schools shrank in student population, he said. Corbett said he had sought advice on the rescue package from the businesspeople — notably Pennsylvania's Republican national committeeman Robert Asher, Comcast Corp. executive vice president David Cohen and Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Rob Wonderling — and he characterized it as a three-way effort that will require wage and benefit concessions from the city's teachers to save money. "We're trying to make sure (students) have what they need, OK? But that requires participation from all three segments," Corbett said. "From the government, from the schools and school administrators and from those people who consume a lot of school money, and that's the teachers." The full article is here:
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on July 4, 2013 9:11 am
Thank you for sharing this article. I've never heard teachers described as those who "consume a lot of school money." Corbett has fallen into a new low. Teachers are "consumers" of "school money?" Are police "consumers" of city money? Is the Commonwealth Legislature "consumers" of state money? Is this how the "leaders" of the marketplace - Cohen, Chamber of Commerce, Gleason, etc. - view teachers?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 10:59 am
Thanks for posting that, Tom. It seems that the argument is against one teachers union, the PFT. Is Corbett expecting all teachers unions statewide to help balance their districts' budgets, or just Philly teachers? Is the PFT the only "consumer" of the state education funding? The plan is to " starve" the PFT members? Charter school teachers also contribute to their PSERS pension, so what reforms will affect THEM?Charter salaries are in line with PFT pay scales, so if PFT has to concede, so do the charter school teachers. It's clearly an attack on urban teachers unions -- the Republican agenda. Philly govt. has also contributed to the starvation because it failed to collect real estate taxes in the millions and millions.....and now they're saying they'll start the process of collecting and contributing a FRACTION of what is owed? Hmmmm..... more starvation tactics because if they collected ALL back taxes their would be more food on the table (I.e., money for our schools). Shame on the City if they say they can only collect and contribute $30 million. A fiscal diet has to be fair -- deprivation diets don't work!
Submitted by Norton (not verified) on July 4, 2013 9:42 am
I agree with everything in this editorial except for one thing. Experienced teachers can't leave the district for the suburbs for the simple fact that they are too expensive for suburban districts. Veteran teachers like myself are virtually stuck in the SDP.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on July 4, 2013 1:32 pm
Norton, You are so right about veteran teachers being too expensive to find work elsewhere. Commentors, including myself, have made this point. And the fact that you can't leave for other districts is to the advantage of those who want to weaken the PFT. With the draconian budget cuts being proposed, many veteran teachers, principals, and other employees who are near the top of their pay scale are retiring. This will lower costs for the District. At the same time, many of these veteran educators by who are PFT members are also the most militant PFT members. So by enticing/forcing these older teachers to retire, it also weakens the union reducing the number of militant and active members. EGS
Submitted by tom-104 on July 4, 2013 1:43 pm
Well that means the younger teachers are going to have to step up (and that includes learning the history of labor stuggles in Philadelphia and nationally).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 4:22 pm
Another thing they are doing with requesting concessions from the PFT is that they can keep the charter school teachers' salaries lower too. The "profits" will flow to the top. The charter schools won't allow their teachers to organize. They won't renew or will fire any union active employees.
Submitted by Another concerned phila. (not verified) on July 4, 2013 6:02 pm
We need teachers to work together - charter and public - to shake up the current powers that be. Public school teachers needs to support organizing efforts by charter school teachers (e.g. Olney).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 4, 2013 4:32 pm
Another thing they are doing with requesting concessions from the PFT is that they can keep the charter school teachers' salaries lower too. The "profits" will flow to the top. The charter schools won't allow their teachers to organize. They won't renew or will fire any union active employees.
Submitted by Niallo (not verified) on January 28, 2015 7:09 pm

 I respect what you do, and I sincerely hope that someone wakes up and gives you the compassion and respect that you deserve. Casquette Snapback

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