Bryan Steinberg loves his job teaching social studies in Philadelphia, but he's seriously contemplating quitting to become a bartender.
Katie Glass just tendered her resignation as a Philadelphia School District speech therapist. She's moving to Vietnam.
And Megan and Bryan McGlynn, married city teachers with a new baby, wonder how much longer they can keep going with two incomes tied to a school system that has kept them without a contract for three years and without a raise for four.
With no progress in sight on the contract front - the district and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers haven't negotiated since June, and have no bargaining sessions scheduled - some school staffers are saying they can no longer stay in Philadelphia.
"Anyone who can get up and leave is moving," said Sonya Brintnall, a district speech therapist. "It's been too long to wait. It's demoralizing."
That teachers' pay has been frozen for four years is not lost on Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.
"I do think that one worry is without a contract, we become a recruiting ground for everyone else," Hite said in a September interview.
Kevin Geary, a district spokesman, said officials "understand why teachers may be frustrated," but suggested the PFT is at fault for the lack of action. He said the union is ignoring a significant offer, including wage increases and bonuses.
Geary also said the PFT must "take into account that we still face a potential $500 million budget deficit by the end of 2021."
PFT president Jerry Jordan rejected the notion that the contract standoff is the union's fault. He also disputed any suggestion that the district had put pay increases on the table.
Jordan said he has noted with alarm the acceleration of his members leaving the district - particularly young teachers.
"There's a tremendous instability when there is no contract," he said. "Suburban districts want our teachers. They're able to work with very few tools, and do a very good job."
Steinberg has been a district teacher for eight years - first in Olney, and more recently at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush, a magnet school in the Northeast. He has a master's degree and a deep love for seeing teenagers become civically engaged. He stays after school most days to work with students.
But he has a problem - because of the lack of a contract, Steinberg, 31, is paid as a fourth-year teacher with a bachelor's degree, $54,365 vs. the $67,778 he would be making by now if the district hadn't frozen him at his 2012 pay.
His salary hasn't gone up, but his expenses have. So Steinberg has had to stop paying into a retirement account, and he works a side job as a bartender and restaurant server two days a week.
Yes, he has good health insurance that he doesn't contribute toward, but that doesn't pay his grocery bill or his student loans, Steinberg said.
He made it through several years of rough school conditions amid brutal budgets, but the continued lack of a contract means he's just about at the breaking point, Steinberg said. He is seriously contemplating quitting at the end of the year.
"Waiting tables makes a lot more than this," he said. "I would stay in the district for 35 years if they paid me correctly. I'm not asking for a ton of money - I'm asking for what they agreed to."
Glass, 27, who will work her last day Nov. 23, does not want to leave Philadelphia. But she can no longer afford to lose $20,000 a year - the difference between what she was paid four years ago and what she would make now given her master's degree and her total of six years of experience.
"I'm cut out for this. I like the challenge. It's extremely rewarding," said Glass, who works at schools in Roxborough and Manayunk and who makes ends meet with side jobs nannying and working in a restaurant.
A summer overseas opened her eyes, Glass said. In Vietnam, educators are revered and the cost of living is cheap. Staying in Philadelphia no longer feels tenable.
"Every year, I hear, 'It's going to get better; they're going to sign a contract,' " she said. She and others said they thought a contract might be imminent after the state Supreme Court in August shot down the School Reform Commission's attempt to cancel the contract, but no progress has been made since then.
Costs worry Megan McGlynn, who teaches at H.A. Brown, an elementary school in Kensington. She and her husband, a teacher at Solis-Cohen Elementary in the Northeast, love and believe in the work they're doing in the city where they live.
But with a new baby and stalled negotiations, things are starting to look different.
"My husband has picked up a second job just trying to put food on the table and pay for diapers," said McGlynn, who is 32. "It is very challenging to work as hard as we do and to have the people we work for not value us enough."
Job-hunting feels like an epidemic, McGlynn said.
"Everybody is looking," she said. "Everybody is trying to get into a district where they have more financial security."
Brintnall, another speech therapist, said she and her colleagues often get cold calls from districts or agencies offering them more money and better working conditions.
It's tempting. Before the contract froze, Brintnall and her husband, district teacher Christopher Powers, bought a car and put a new roof on their house in University City. They made those decisions based on the steady increases built into every teachers' contract.
She hasn't jumped - yet. But she estimates that she and Powers are out almost $35,000 because of lost wages.
"I have to start being serious about leaving if the contract isn't going to be resolved this year," said Brintnall, 46. "We didn't think we were going to be millionaires. But we thought we'd be taken care of because we were doing a public service."
Among many teachers, there is a palpable anger, a sense that they are demonized by many public officials and wrongly accused of not making sacrifices.
"They treat us like we are missionaries. It's a calling to work with kids, but it's not a calling to work for them," Brintnall said. "They are trying everything they can rather than the logical thing - negotiating a fair contract."