With two important deadlines looming, the Philadelphia School District on Tuesday reported little progress in getting $103 million in concessions from the teachers' union - givebacks it says are key to shoring up a financial bailout plan that includes money from the state.
"Quite frankly, it would create a level of fiscal stability that this district hasn't seen for some time now," Philadelphia School District Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said of the concessions in a 30-minute interview.
The contract with the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers - which has strongly resisted the concessions - expires on Saturday. The district and union talked over the weekend and are meeting daily this week in an attempt to come to an agreement, and the first day of class is Sept. 9.
The negotiation arguably is the toughest the two sides have ever faced, given the level of salary cuts and changes the district is demanding, and the dire financial condition of the 136,000-student school district.
The district wants to reduce salaries 5 percent to 13 percent, depending on pay level, and wants teachers to extend their work day to eight hours, a 56-minute increase, for no additional pay, and wants union members to contribute toward their health plans.
The district also wants to eliminate "step" salary increases, and the authority to give raises based only on performance, which would mean taking into consideration students' academic success.
In addition, the district wants the right to lay off employees without regard for the union's long-held and closely guarded seniority rights, and contract out for services performed by some union members if they can be done at a cheaper cost. District officials also would like principals and their staffs to be able to select teachers, rather than allowing seniority-based selection.
The union, which is planning a membership meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at Temple's Liacouras Center, is not willing to concede.
"A lot of what they're asking for is not good for public education," PFT spokesman George Jackson said Tuesday. "You're asking for concessions that ultimately will drive teachers out of the system and make it difficult for the district to recruit and retain teachers in the future."
Teachers, he noted, already spend lots of money on supplies for their classrooms and work under difficult conditions in under-resourced schools.
The union, Jackson said, is considering taking action against the district for temporarily suspending parts of the state school code, including a provision on seniority, to give Hite the ability to return laid-off staff to the schools where they worked in June.
The negotiations could impact the district's immediate and long-term outlook.
Earlier this summer, the district laid off nearly 4,000 employees to cope with a $304 million deficit. Over the last couple months, a financial plan that would generate $261 million for the district was developed.
But to date, only $83 million of that money has been guaranteed, Hite said. That includes $50 million from the city, $15 million in delinquent tax collections, $2 million in additional basic education funding from the state, and $16 million that the district came up with in savings, Hite said.
With that money, the district in the last week has called back 1,649 employees, including almost all of its noontime aides, 212 secretaries, 116 counselors, 150 teachers and 45 assistant principals.
To round out the $261 million needed, the state has promised $45 million once the contracts are settled with significant changes and $133 million would come from the union concessions.
Then additional staff can be recalled, Hite said. He noted that he is taking a 10 percent pay cut on his $300,00 base salary, effective Oct. 1; nine of his top administrators will do the same, he said.
The district also is demanding $30 million in concessions from its unions representing principals, school police officers, noon time aides and cafeteria employees.
Even with the restorations, many schools will open without a counselor or assistant principal. Music and sports will only be funded for half a year and class sizes will reach the maximum allowed under the contract, 30 students in primary grades and 33 in other grades.
"No school in the district has the resources they need to open safely," said Robert McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, the principals' union. "Schools are not prepared with the staff they need."
Even schools that are getting assistant principals will be dramatically underserved, he said. South Philadelphia High, for example, will go from three assistant principals to one, McGrogan said.
Hite said, "We're requesting that everyone share in the sacrifices that many of our families and children have had to sacrifice over the last couple years. They've seen schools close. They've seen programs eliminated. They've seen resources disappear."
Hite declined to say what steps the district will take if no contract is reached by Saturday.
"We are reviewing all of our options," he said.
The district could impose contract terms but there's no guarantee that a court challenge wouldn't prevail. Also, under the state takeover law, union members who strike could lose their certification.