This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Three of the District’s employee unions have agreed to one-year contracts with the School District, but the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is working under an extension and resisting a one-year deal.
The new deadline is Oct. 31. The city and its unionized workers set a pattern this summer with one-year contracts. The mayor said he needed time to develop strategies for reducing benefit costs.
The District followed suit with unions representing principals, school police, and maintenance workers. Their one-year contracts provided 3 percent raises and no cuts to benefits. Besides the teachers, cafeteria workers are still negotiating.
Throughout the summer, neither side gave any hint of the major issues at stake in the contract talks, imposing a media blackout. Beginning in late August, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman made known her preference for a oneyear deal with the teachers.
“That will give us time to get to know each other and work with some difficult issues … and be ready for the next school year with changes that would benefit students,” Ackerman said in a Sept. 3 interview. She identified some of those issues as teacher recruitment and retention, the length of the school day and year, and staffing at persistently low-achieving schools.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan is not sold on the idea, saying “She has a five-year contract – we’d like one as well.”
“A longer-term agreement allows for stability for the staff,” he said, explaining that uncertainty also breeds teacher turnover. “Every year that a contract expires, we have a spike in retirements,” he said.
Jordan added that a 3 percent raise would not address the teacher pay gap compared to many suburban districts.
Ackerman cited work on health care cost containment as another reason for a one-year deal.
Dennis Biondo, who heads the health and welfare fund of SEIU Local 1201 – representing 4,000 District custodians, bus drivers and attendants, school aides, and building engineers – said the District and unions should “work together to keep health care costs down.”
“By bringing all our ideas and costsaving solutions together we can make it happen, but we have to work together,” he added.
Despite the media blackout, others are weighing in.
Members of Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) are planning a September action to highlight inequities in teacher quality among schools.
To attract teachers to hard-to-staff schools, PSU wants to see a contract that gives schools “teacher incentive grants,” said director Nijmie Dzurinko. These would be “flexible pots of money – school communities could figure out what works for them,” she said.