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Countdown, Day 21: Mayor says kids, not teachers, being asked to do heaviest lift

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

Superintendent William Hite and the School Reform Commission continue their commitment not to budget a penny that they are not sure of getting as schools struggle to prepare for opening under unprecedented conditions. They have decided that the $50 million from the city is gettable, despite the tug-of-war between Mayor Nutter and Council President Darrell Clarke over how to raise it.

So they have put those millions back into the District budget. Not so for the $45 million grant the state has committed but is holding back, pending concessions from the teachers’ union in contract talks.

Nutter said he thinks another plea to the Corbett administration to deliver the $45 million now is futile, despite the uncertainties still swirling about as schools try to open Sept. 9 under tumultuous conditions. And the mayor has not put out any new ideas for trying to pry loose some additional cash that may ease the school opening process.

He still wants a cigarette tax, but that can’t happen in time because the General Assembly isn’t due back until later in September.

As for the $45 million that is contingent on the unspecified labor reforms, Nutter told WHYY and the Notebook on Friday, "All I can tell you is that the General Assembly put that provision in that bill, the governor signed that bill, and until the education secretary determines that the conditions have been met, that’s that. I can’t do anything about that."

The money is the state’s, he said, and "they can do whatever they want. Sometimes the executive gets to be the executive and make decisions. … My focus is to work on where I do think I can do something."

Nutter also said that while he is unclear on what reforms the state expects, "significant" savings from the union negotiations are a given.

He was asked why the teachers’ and principals’ unions should feel that they should make $133 million in concessions when the city and state came up with less than that amount, at least for this year, despite being asked for $180 million. In answer, he returned to the familiar theme that children are being hurt while adults squabble.

"The teachers are certainly being asked to make a lift," he said. "I think the folks who have had the heaviest lift are school students. That’s my opinion. They’re the ones that are trying to get an education. They’ve given the most, sacrificed the most, and have had the least in any of this kind of conversation. And that’s because of what adults are doing or not doing. Everybody’s got to put something on the table here in a shared sacrifice. Students have given, parents have given, taxpayers have given, other unions have given, the city has put up, the state has put up. We can debate about who’s done what and how much, and all those issues, but everybody’s got to put something on the table, and we’re now down to the last component of this, which are the contract negotiations with teachers and principals."

The negotiations with both the teachers’ and principals’ bargaining units are continuing in their usual secrecy. There is no indication from anyone how far along they have gotten. Publicly, judging from last week’s School Reform Commission meeting, the PFT and the District are far, far apart. Traditionally, negotiations start early but don’t get down to serious business until near the end of the process. One might hope that this year would have been different, but it doesn’t look that way.

The School District of Philadelphia faces an unprecedented situation – uncertainty over whether it will be in a position to open safe and functioning schools in September.

This feature, appearing each weekday, is an effort to highlight developments and motivate action as we get closer to the beginning of the school year. We encourage readers to send us information about both concerns and breakthroughs to

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