In the first on-time contract settlement in more than 20 years, Philadelphia teachers will get raises amounting to 9% over three years under a new tentative agreement between the district and their union.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said that 93% of the members attending indicated support in a “voice vote” during a virtual meeting Wednesday night. An official vote will be conducted by the American Arbitration Association through Sept. 15.
“I was thrilled to present this contract to my members,” Jordan said during a virtual meeting with reporters. “It’s a strong step forward for the [school district] and the city and a considerable step forward for public education.”.
The Board of Education will vote on whether to accept the tentative agreement at their next meeting on Sept. 23.
In a statement, Superintendent William Hite also described himself as “thrilled” and said he was “excited that months of good-faith negotiations have resulted in a proposed contract that fairly supports the needs of our PFT members” while advancing the district’s goals “for improving student outcomes.”
The agreement was reached in the final hours before the PFT’s one-year contract expired at 11:59 p.m Tuesday, and Jordan said it was touch-and-go to secure a deal.
”Yes, we were on the brink of a strike vote,” he said “Yes, we were serious. But we ultimately achieved an agreement we are incredibly proud of.” The three-year pact was achieved with the help of Mayor Jim Kenney and Deputy Mayor for Labor Rich Lazer, he said. Earlier in the day, Kenney said he was “relieved” at the agreement.
When the state-dominated School Reform Commission ran the district between 2001 and 2017, teachers were prohibited from striking, but they regained that right with the return to local control. During that period, their salaries were frozen for five years. Aside from a weekend walkout in 2000, Philadelphia teachers last struck in 1981.
Teachers will get a 2.75% increase as of Sept. 1 plus a $1,500 bonus, followed by a 3.25% increase plus a $1,000 bonus on Sept. 1, 2022, and then a 3% increase on Sept. 1, 2023, in addition to automatic “step” increases for additional years of experience and advanced degrees.
Under the pact, top pay for teachers with more than 11 years’ experience and a master’s degree plus 60 credits or a doctoral degree can top $100,000 a year for the first time. Starting salaries for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree goes up from about $45,000 annually to $48,000 a year. (School psychologists, as well as experienced teachers with advanced degrees who also served as coaches or department heads, could already earn that much.)
The deal also includes no increases in member costs for their benefit package.
Also important, Jordan said, is a restructuring of the salary scale for paraprofessionals, the union’s lowest paid workers. They include classroom assistants and aides for students with
disabilities. They will get a 10% raise immediately and an “accelerated” pattern of increases during the life of the contract.
“This is an enormous win,” Jordan said, for workers who are “woefully underpaid,” with salaries that can start as low as $15,000 a year. “We talk a lot about equity as a union, a district, a city...this is one important step in bringing some of our lowest paid members, who are a majority Black and brown and city residents, up to a better wage.”
The amount teachers receive to help with classroom supplies will double from $100 to $200 a year, and paraprofessionals will receive $50 a year for this purpose.
Jordan also said there were also changes in some work rules the union had sought. One he said could help stabilize school staff by limiting use of a “special assignment” category for teachers placed in a building outside the regular “site selection” process, which results in some changing schools year after year.
The Board of Education approved a vaccine mandate for employees last month, and the district and union still are negotiating terms for exemptions and consequences for noncompliance, but not as part of the contract. Jordan offered no hint as to how soon an agreement on that would be worked out.
“We did have a separate meeting on that within the last week, and we did talk about our concerns about the policy the school board will ultimately pass,” Jordan said.