In early October, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission voted to cancel a labor contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union in order to save money. In fact, the SRC says the decision will save $54 million this year. Starting in December, individual teachers would be required to pay between $27 and $71 a month for health insurance, while teachers with a family plan would pay $77 to $200.
While officials say that there was nothing left to cut, seeing as over 5,000 positions and 31 facilities in the district have been cut in recent years, teachers and students alike are at their limit with budget cuts.
Only two days after the decision to cancel the union contract was announced, dozens of high school students walked out of school to protest. The Facebook page for the event said, “Teachers around the district are talking about going on strike. This is exactly what [Gov. Tom] Corbett wants them to do. If and when teachers go on strike the administration can point and say, ‘Look at the teachers look at what they’re doing to the students.’ We students cannot allow this to happen.”
Rallies continue in a variety of ways, including one sit-in at a district-sponsored viewing of the movie Won’t Back Down, during which Sylvia Simms, Schools Reform Commissioner, reportedly shouted at the students “you all probably go to failing schools.”
Over the next week, tensions grew higher between school officials and teachers, culminating on Oct. 16, when thousands of students, parents, teachers, and union members shut down Broad Street outside the school district headquarters in the largest protest so far.
Many wonder what actions will be taken next. On Oct. 24, the Philadelphia Schools appeared in headlines again when Mayor Nutter was bombarded by tweets regarding the state of schools’ bathrooms. Many on Twitter claimed that schools have a lack of toilet paper, soap, and paper towel, and that many toilets are broken and unsanitary.
The PFT has filed with the Philadelphia Common Pleas court, and labor leaders are contemplating a general strike for members of all unions, even those who aren’t teachers. But Jerry Jordan, PFT president, supported waiting to try all legal routes to negotiation first.
Now, most are hoping that the upcoming election can solve the budget crisis the school district has been facing for years.