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With talks paused, Weingarten tells teachers to work to defeat Corbett

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

There have been no meaningful teachers’ contract negotiations all summer because District leaders have declined to schedule any talks, union leaders told several hundred members who came to a general membership meeting Tuesday.

Teachers are returning to school this week without a contract, facing bare-bones conditions in schools but still under pressure to agree to contract changes that would save the District about $30 million.

Over the last two years, schools have seen relentless cuts in administration and support personnel, fewer nurses and counselors, and reductions in teacher allotments that have caused class sizes to balloon in some schools.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told the group to work to defeat Gov. Corbett and to drum up support for a nonbinding referendum on the Phliadelphia ballot asking whether control of the School District should be returned to the city.

"The path forward is to elect a new governor who believes in education and is willing to take responsibility" for the District instead of just "ideologically blaming" teachers and those closest to them for its fiscal crisis, she said.

The referendum on local control, although non-binding, would "give voice to the frustration about having the state take control of the School District without the state taking any responsibility for [adequate] funding," Weingarten said.

The state took over the District at the end of 2001, citing fiscal and academic distress.

Originally, the District was seeking more than $100 million in concessions from the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, similar to those it extracted from its blue-collar unions and from its principals.

In an interview after the meeting, PFT president Jerry Jordan said that there had been no talks scheduled since June.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the District "has met with the mediator and communicated with the mediator throughout the summer. We have been in communication, and we consider that to be active negotiations."

Gallard said that the District "continues to seek concessions that are in line with those already made by the principals, blue-collar workers, and non-represented staff. We are not seeking reductions in wages, but do need to have substantial changes to the benefit structure that is currently part of the PFT contract."

Jordan has said that the union would agree to changes in benefits. Although the District has removed demands for a 13 percent pay cut, it still wants teachers to take furloughs, which he said amount to a pay cut.

Weingarten said that the District’s decision to take the pay-cut demand off the table was the "expedient thing to do" before an election and when pay raises were granted to other municipal unions.

The District still wants to end the system of automatic raises based on longevity and education level, which is the way that most teachers in the state are paid.

Last summer, the District unilaterally stopped paying those increases. Jordan said that some teachers who had paid out of pocket to obtain advanced degrees "found they would not be compensated for them."

Jordan said that there are other sticking points over proposed work-rule changes. For instance, the District wants to remove from the contract requirements that there be at least one full-time counselor at each school and a provision capping class size at 30 students up to 3rd grade and 33 in higher grades.

‘We can’t agree to that, because that’s not good for kids," he said.

According to attendees, several hundred people were at the meeting, held at Girls High and closed to the press. PFT been working without a contract since an extension of the prior contract expired last August.

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