Hughes to SRC: Don't balance books on teachers' backs

Posted: March 06, 2013

Don't take your money woes out on teachers, State Sen. Vincent Hughes has told the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in no uncertain terms.

In a sharply worded letter to SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos, Hughes (D., Phila.) expressed "deep concerns" over the Philadelphia School District's recent opening contract proposal to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

The district has said it needs up to $180 million annually in givebacks from its unions, and recently called for teachers to agree to deep wage cuts, steep benefits contributions, and an end to seniority.

Doing that while not asking Gov. Corbett for more money is "inexcusable and an act of hypocrisy," Hughes wrote last week.

Yes, Hughes said, the district is nearing insolvency, having recently borrowed $300 million just to pay bills through the end of this school year. But the governor has shorted Philadelphia schools by more than that over the last two years, and the SRC has not made nearly enough of a fuss about it, Hughes said.

Corbett proposed a $15 million increase in state aid for Philadelphia schools in 2013-14. The SRC has not requested any additional funds to date, Hughes said.

Ramos, who was appointed to the SRC by Corbett, is drafting a response to Hughes, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said.

That response will remind Hughes that "the new SRC has made a conscious, unanimous decision not to project revenue that it cannot reasonably rely on receiving," Gallard said. Prior administrations' practice of budgeting money that was not promised "is what resulted in the financial gaps of the past, which we are paying for now."

The SRC has made it clear to Hughes, Gallard said, "that it is the SRC's and district's intention to increase advocacy efforts in Harrisburg and City Hall, specifically to ask for more revenue that would allow it to secure long-term sustainability."

Asked how likely a governor who has historically been chilly to Philadelphia and its schools would be to simply fork over more cash, Hughes was adamant.

"I don't give a damn how receptive he is," Hughes said Monday. "At some point, the leader has got to acknowledge the fact that this is a problem. The difficulty is that when you're silent on boldly and aggressively seeking more dollars from Harrisburg - from the governor specifically - then that makes all of your other issues suspect."

Hughes said he had no beef with City Hall, which chipped in millions more in funding than it initially pledged in each of the last two years after district leaders made their case for additional dollars.

Some changes need to be made to the teachers contract, which expires in August, Hughes acknowledged. Last year, the district's blue-collar workers, most of whom make less than $40,000 annually, all agreed to givebacks.

But the district's first proposal to the PFT "will threaten the economic security of thousands of middle-income families in Philadelphia, and is not the direction in which our city should be going economically," he said.


Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146, kgraham@phillynews.com or on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles.

 

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