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Photo: Dale Mezzacappa

Dale Mezzacappa / The Notebook

Coalition wants teacher reforms, but opposes any pay cuts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A coalition of advocacy groups wants groundbreaking changes in the Philadelphia teachers’ contract — including the effective end of seniority privileges — but is also urging the School Reform Commission to take off the table its plan for deep salary and benefit concessions.

Saying that such cuts would be demoralizing, the groups want the SRC to ask the city and the state to cough up even more than $180 million in additional funds.

"The city and the state must step up to the plate in even bigger ways than have been asked for by the School District," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), at a press conference kicking off the groups’ campaign. "We’re very clear: The teacher pay cuts that have been proposed by the SRC are harsh, and we believe they should be avoided."

To eliminate a structural deficit in the neigborhood of $300 million, the SRC is seeking to slash labor costs by 10 percent, or about $133 million, while asking for $120 million in additional funds from the state and $60 million from the city.

But even if a contract reaches agreement on pay and benefits, it won’t be successful if it doesn’t include "a set of reforms in teacher work practices that will support high school achievement," Cooper said.

Among the changes sought by the coalition is full site-selection, meaning that principals and leadership teams in schools would fill all vacancies after interviewing teachers. Full site-selection is now in place at about 100 schools labeled by the District as low-performing. But at most District schools, seniority policies in the contract give teachers the right to transfer into positions in some cases. Seniority still governs in the cases of layoffs or job eliminations in schools due to lower enrollment.

The coalition also wants to end the practice of automatic raises for additional degrees or certifications, unless "research demonstrates that the degree correlates to gains in student achievement."

Among the management practices that it wants changed are better principal development and evaluation and the removal of "ineffective principals from academic leadership." It also wants better training for principals so they can better evaluate and support their teachers.

"We call on the District to overhaul how it recruits, how it hires, how it orients and supports new teachers, and how it helps existing teachers improve their practice," Cooper said. "The changes we are asking for are long overdue."

At the same time, it also wants the SRC to abandon its plan to eliminate class-size limits in the contract, but seek flexibility to support educational practices such as "blended learning," in which larger groups of students work individually on computers with adult supervision.

The District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are in the midst of negotiations, which started off with a bang when the SRC’s opening gambit of deep concessions was leaked to the press.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the District welcomed the coalition’s involvement and the airing of important issues. Similarly, PFT president Jerry Jordan said that "we respect and value their opinions. They clearly are concerned about public education in the city." Both said that the two sides were meeting regularly; the PFT contract expires at the end of August.

Besides PCCY, the coalition includes United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, ASPIRA, Congreso, Education Voters PA, the Urban League of Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Education Fund. It has set up a website: EffectiveTeachingPhilly.org