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Raises for Philly teachers in deal worth $395M

If teachers ratify the deal now before them, they will get pay raises and the restoration of "step" increases and compensation for years of experience; they would begin paying part of the cost of their health insurance. But the district does not currently have a clear path to pay for the deal.

The contract-ratification vote at 6 p.m. Monday coincides with some schools' graduations, but union president Jerry Jordan said it was unavoidable under the time constraints.
The contract-ratification vote at 6 p.m. Monday coincides with some schools' graduations, but union president Jerry Jordan said it was unavoidable under the time constraints.Read moreBRIANNA SPAUSE / Staff Photographer

City teachers, who have gone five years without a raise, would get one if they ratify the tentative agreement before them Monday — but it could cost some of them their jobs if new money from the city and state is not forthcoming.

The pact will cost the Philadelphia School District $395 million — $245 million more than it has budgeted for — with no clear path to pay for it. A source close to the talks said it could eventually force district layoffs without additional revenues.

The deal between the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and school system would give almost 12,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries, aides, and other school workers salary increases over the life of the three-year contract, which would also restore "steps," or pay for years of experience, and compensation for advanced degrees.

Educators would begin paying for their health insurance — most currently do not contribute toward the cost of benefits — and would abdicate the right to choose from among open jobs based on seniority.

Details were revealed Saturday to PFT members.

The deal does not make members whole for the years of increases they missed out on during the four-year contract stalemate, a likely pressure point for some who have lost out on tens of thousands of dollars, but PFT president Jerry Jordan said it was a fair contract that acknowledges both teachers' needs and the district's fiscal reality.

"It goes a ways to recognize the sacrifices that our members have made," Jordan said. "I believe that most members are realistic and don't expect" retroactive pay for every year they worked without a contract, he said.

Instead of giving members straight, across-the-board raises, the pact would give teachers a combination of one-time payments, percentage bumps in salary, and, for teachers who have not maxed out on years of experience, movement on the step system that the PFT fought hard to preserve.

"We said, 'How do you get some money into people's pockets every year?' That's why we decided to go with the lump-sum payments rather than a raise," which would have quickly used up most of the available money, Jordan said.

Teachers keep their current insurance, but they would begin to shoulder some of its cost. Beginning in September, members would pay 1.25 percent of their base salary for health coverage. That would rise to 1.5 percent of base salary in 2019. Those with spouses eligible for employer-paid health care who take PFT health insurance would pay a surcharge.

The contract would restore compensation for advanced degrees. When the district froze salaries five years ago, it also ceased paying not just step increases but also more to those who earned master's and doctoral degrees.

Brand-new teachers with no advanced degrees are now paid $45,360. By the end of the new contract, they would make $46,267. Teachers at the top of the pay scale now max out at $90,051; that would rise to $91,852.

Salary was a major sticking point, but work rules were nearly as thorny. The district wanted the PFT to agree to universal "site selection" — a system that allows principals and school communities to hire the teachers they want without considering seniority. The union conceded that point, though seniority will still count in the event of layoffs and recalls.

The deal does preserve the right of teachers to make decisions about how they spend their prep time, Jordan said.

"That is something the district wanted to really have total control over," Jordan said.

The school system also wanted to remove language requiring it to staff every school with at least one counselor, but the PFT squashed that provision. The union held on to a section that requires the district to provide water fountains in schools, and added language that would mandate citywide training in restorative justice, a well-regarded violence-prevention program that exists in some schools.

School district leaders wanted to lengthen the school day; the PFT successfully fought against that.

Not in the deal are bonuses for teachers who work in hard-to-staff schools and subject areas such as science, foreign language, and special education. The district had campaigned for those, but Jordan held firm. He said that with limited fiscal resources, the money was better spent spread among all members.

It is a starkly different package from the district's initial contract proposal, which would have cut salaries, ended steps and pay for advanced degrees, and eliminated the PFT's Health and Welfare Fund, among other things. And the price tag is hundreds of millions more than the district offered in the fall, when $150 million was put on the table.

How the school system will foot the bill for the new contract is not clear. The School Reform Commission has no revenue-raising ability and depends largely on city and state money to operate.

The city has already given more than $400 million in new money — "way beyond the level that we should have," Council President Darrell L. Clarke said — to the district in recent years. Clarke said Harrisburg will have to step up to help fund the deal because the city is close to tapped out.

"We have our limits," he said. "We can't continue to tax the local population."

Still, Clarke said the contract was fair and gave necessary financial reward to educators who have gone too long without a deal, and that the funding piece would be worked out "in a different theater."

City Councilwoman Helen Gym said the price tag was significant, but important.

"This will require the city and state to deliver on their promises to Philadelphia," said Gym.

PFT members are scheduled to meet at the Liacouras Center at 6 p.m. Monday for a contract ratification vote. That date coincides with some schools' graduations, but Jordan said it was unavoidable.

"We are literally right under the wire," he said. "If we don't have the meeting as quickly as possible, then summer break comes, and our members will be dispersed all over the country."

The contract would be effective through 2020.