The Philadelphia School District wants its teachers to lengthen their workdays, give back up to 13 percent of their salaries, and forgo pay raises at least until 2017. It wants to reduce the money paid out to departing employees, weaken seniority, and give principals full authority over hiring and firing teachers.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers officials on Tuesday confirmed some details of the district's initial contract proposal, which were obtained by The Inquirer. School leaders have been saying for months that they need up to $180 million in labor givebacks annually to avert a five-year deficit of more than $1 billion.
"These are not demands that my members would support, nor would they ratify them," PFT president Jerry Jordan said in an interview. "And these demands clearly indicate that the district does not have an interest in attracting and retaining teachers. Teachers who have experience will certainly leave to go to other districts, where they will be compensated fairly for what they do."
Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn said he could not comment on ongoing labor talks, but said that the school system "actually values teachers as the most important resource in our district. We are committed to providing teachers with a set of working conditions . . . that will actually in the long run make Philadelphia a place that people will want to come and work."
Under the district's opening proposal, issued Friday, the PFT's 15,000 members - 10,000 teachers, plus nurses, counselors, secretaries, aides, and others - would take pay cuts ranging from 5 percent for those who make under $25,000 to 13 percent for those who make over $55,000.
On top of the smaller paychecks, employees would have longer workdays. Teachers, whose current official workday is just over seven hours, would be required to be at work for eight hours.
The district is also seeking massive changes in how teachers are assigned and in the strict rules that govern the work they are asked to perform outside their regular classroom duties. Seniority now determines how many teachers get jobs; under the district's proposal, principals would have the authority to hire and move teachers regardless of seniority.
Principals would also be able to assign teachers to tasks like hall monitoring and lunch duty at will. Currently, teachers' time is carefully governed by union rules.
Now, the top-paid tier of educators are considered "senior career teachers" - those with 10 years of experience or more, plus other qualifications. That category would disappear. A senior career teacher makes about $90,000.
Instead of being paid at their daily rate for unused personal leave, employees who retire or leave for another job would earn a flat $160 per day.
And the district would retain the right to outsource any job.
When he first heard the district's proposal, Jordan said, he was incredulous.
"I thought it was a joke," Jordan said.
His members' household bills have been getting bigger, and they are already earning less and working in more challenging circumstances than their counterparts in suburban districts, he said.
Jordan also scorned the attempt to give principals more say in assigning teachers: "Another example of the district's overall plan to command and control teachers and other employees. You see nothing that addresses teaching and learning and making schools better for kids."
Kihn said the district's aim was to treat teachers as professionals, and to "make sure that we have the right teachers with the right sets of students, and make sure that we're rewarding and retaining our most effective teachers."
Though the contract is important, "we are overall and in parallel working on a set of initiatives to try to improve the quality of teachers' experiences," Kihn said.
Kihn stressed that the fiscal situation is grim, and pointed to concessions by other unions and pay cuts recently taken by nonunionized employees. Those cuts, however, were less than what the district is asking from the PFT.
"This is an incredibly challenging set of circumstances," Kihn said. The financial part of the district's request "should come as no surprise."
The teachers' contract expires in August, and talks are in the earliest stages. But the givebacks are huge and could spur a flurry of retirements and departures from the PFT's ranks.
That's crucial to a system preparing to close 29 schools and hand three more over to charters. District officials have said they do not believe they'll need to lay off teachers - though other employees will be let go - and high numbers of retirements and other departures are key to that calculus.
Officials have said they want to negotiate, but School Reform Commission officials have also noted that if necessary, they would impose salary and benefit terms on unions. The state takeover law gives the SRC those powers and prohibits teachers from striking.
But PFT officials have said they believe those laws would not hold up in court. Jordan on Tuesday refused to comment on whether he believes the SRC could impose terms.
Last year, however, the SRC hired an attorney to lobby for legislation in Harrisburg that would strengthen its powers. Chairman Pedro Ramos said he did not believe the current law was strong enough to let the SRC impose terms on unions, lawmakers told The Inquirer at the time.