by Ed Olsen
I’d like to address a few additional points that I feel are worth mentioning in response to Dr. Ackerman’s statements as of late in the press.
First, she claims that the district’s proposed one year contract is to bide time in order to “develop a strategic multiyear contract that tackles the tough issues that are key to student success.” How can the PFT be so sure that this one year contract won’t set a precedent? Has Dr. Ackerman even considered the costs of healthcare premiums? According to the National Coalition on Health Care, premiums rose an average of 6.1% in 2007. If the PFT were to agree to a one year contract, that would also mean that the contracts with the various healthcare insurance providers would only be one year. This allows them to raise rates as they see fit as opposed to predetermined rates that would be negotiated in a multiyear deal. Who, I wonder, will be asked to cover these increased costs?
Second, I’d like to review the five-year–that’s what I said, five-year–contract that Dr. Ackerman negotiated for herself with the SRC to the tune of $325,000 annually; and let’s not even get into the bonuses and perks: 20% annual bonuses for performance; $100,000 retention bonus after three years; $1,000,000 life insurance policy paid by the district; a late model sedan for business AND personal use; a blackberry; a cell phone; a laptop computer; a printer and a fax machine. Oh, and I almost forgot, the district agreed to pay up to $15,000 to move her to Philadelphia. That contract reminds me of my first contract when I was hired by the city on September 29, 2000; except now that I think back, they must have forgotten some things.
I suppose it started with my salary. They left off the last zero, and my retention bonus was only about $4500. They didn’t pay to move me here, but they had me sign a new employee residency certification that required me to live within the city limits (eliminated from the contract in 2000). I do have a life insurance policy, but that comes out of my pocket. Same goes for the car and the cell phone. My father-in-law was able to get my wife and me laptops and a printer from a business that was upgrading because I guess the district figured laptops are probably not useful for teachers, so they never gave me one. You can see the similarities here.
I will admit that Dr. Ackerman certainly has more education, experience, and responsibilities that deserve higher compensation, but how about a little “trickle down economics”? Shouldn’t we at least be given a fair, multiyear contract like our superintendent?
Now let’s turn to the issue of increasing the staff day to “provide a safer and learning environment.” The current PFT contract already has provisions for allowing the district to schedule the teacher work day to start before and end after the student day. It even requires, “in the elementary schools, the student day shall begin ten minutes after the teacher day.” (Article XVII.B.1(b).) The same is true of other staff such as NTAs, secretaries, and paraprofessionals. The PFT contract allows teachers and NTAs to be scheduled between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm, while secretaries and paraprofessionals can be scheduled between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm. What we really need to provide a safer learning environment is to hire more teachers, NTAs, and school police officers, not just make our staff work longer hours.
As for absences, she wants to review the “practice of staff counting multiple consecutive days off as one absence.” Well for starters, this policy is a school district policy that was reiterated in a memo by Paul Vallas a few years ago and the memo states that consecutive absences shall be considered one incident of absence, not one absence. Staff is still required to take a personal illness day for each day of absence. There is also a district policy that requires principals to issue a warning to staff after their third incident of absence and suggests disciplinary action after the fifth and seventh.
While we will all agree that a substitute is no substitute for a regular classroom teacher, even the teachers and staff of Philadelphia get sick from time to time; it’s not like we are around hundreds of kids everyday. I bet some of us even have children that get sick and can’t attend daycare or school sometimes.
Finally, the issue of the “current practice of staff to leave their classroom positions even after children arrive in September and throughout the year.” Remember my first contract? I was hired by the school district on September 29th and didn’t start until October 16, 2000. The PA Public School Employees’ Retirement System charges a penalty based on how far you are from a normal retirement benefit, which is 35 years of service. PSERS reduces your retirement by one quarter of one percent per month for each month you are under normal retirement requirements. In other words, if a teacher was hired after September 1, then they can not retire until that date or they will be charged a penalty. Teachers have the option of continuing to work past their 35 year retirement requirement, but as many former teachers have told me on their last days, “When its time to go, its time to go.” Does the district really want to force teachers to stay when their hearts are no longer in it? This sounds a bit Draconian and harkens to the days of indentured servitude.
I have been a bit harsh in my response to Dr. Ackerman and her one year proposal, but it feels like a slap in the face to me and thousands of other teachers and staff member that work tirelessly and volunteer extra time and effort to teach and nurture the youth of the Philadelphia School District. As PFT President, Jerry Jordan, states, “Our working conditions are our students’ learning condition.” The PFT contract expired on August 31 and was extended for 60 days. That means it is set to expire again on October 31, Halloween. I hope for the sake of the students that Dr. Ackerman has a treat for Jerry Jordan and the PFT, and not a trick.
Ed Olsen is a Social Studies Teacher and the PFT Building Rep. at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.