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School Budget Battle: Teacher Unions And Parents

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City council votes on a new budget that includes tax hikes and more money for schools.

What happened today is no surprise. We know the city is turning over more than 70-million dollars to the school district, which is facing a massive budget hole. And now it's looking like the state will pitch in too. So where does that leave the so-called "doomsday" budget?

When you think about school funding in Philadelphia, think about a stool. The district is propped up by three legs. One leg is funding from the city. One is the state. And the third is the teachers union. Two of the legs now appear in place. But without the third, the stool won't stand.

According to Tom Ferrick, a Former Inquirer Reporter, "It looks like there's a political consensus to get something done. The city did its share. The state looks like it's going to step forward, and now it's time for the teachers."

According to Jerry Jordan, President of the Teachers Union, "Well first of all, we didn't help build the stool."

Maybe not, but the district needs to plug it's budget hole. And if it doesn't, the nearly 4,000 teachers, nurses and school secretaries who received pink slips may not get their jobs back. A tough spot for the teachers union.

"They're in the position now where if they don't give dollar concessions, layoffs will occur, and they will get the blame for the layoffs," says Ferrick.

Under the so-called Doomsday budget the district put into place last week, every school in the district will lose its assistant principal. Most are losing their counselors and support staff. Music and sports will be cut.

"If we're not giving these kids these chances anymore, then we're really not providing all students with an equal education," says Jesse Mell, a Music Teacher.

But at the same time Philly teachers are already paid significantly less than their suburban counterparts. They don't want pay cuts. Negotiations with the teachers union are expected to continue all summer-- their contract doesn't run out until August 31st.

According to Tom Ferrick, "If you're Jerry Jordan, what do you do? I would retire and go to the Virgin Islands. "

"I like that! I wish I could," answers Jordan.

A lot of parents showed up for the council meeting to complain about the school district's "doomsday" budget. That's the district's worst-case scenario, in which they're forced to accept dramatic cuts in programs and personnel. With budget talks still continuing, parents are in a tough situation.

These parents are angry. And they wanted to let city council know that. But first, they had to get past security, and that wasn't happening. The council chambers had reached capacity-- so many of them had to wait outside, protest signs in hand. A frustrating moment in what's been a frustrating month, nearly 4,000 teachers, counselors, school nurses, and support staff received pink slips.

Shanee Garner, of Public Citizens for Children & Youth remarked "They're really concerned about what kind of schools their kids will be entering next year. And that's a valid concern, and nothing is set in stone."

What is certain is this, Council did sign off on a plan to give the school district the money it's asking for. And state lawmakers appear ready to pitch in also, though that's not definite. Now it may be up to the teachers union. The district is asking for major concessions, so it won't have to go through with the layoffs.

According to Jordan, "Everything's on the table. That's always the case when negotiating."

Union President Jerry Jordan is predicting the teachers and others targeted by the layoffs will return to their jobs.

"I do. At least that's our goal. Our goal is to fight to make sure that every person is brought back, because failure to do that is a major concession."

Negotiations are expected to last all summer, with no resolution expected until just before the start of the school year. A disturbing prospect for any parent with a child in the Philadelphia School District.

"Don't take your kid out now, because this is not over. The final chapter is not over. But if you have options, I don't think you'd want to send your kid to that school," warns Ferrick.

The problem for many parents: they don't have options. They can't afford private school, and the best charters are filled up. The protesters who showed up at council today are demanding longer-term funding solutions, which the council president says is exactly what he's working on, so we won't have to go through this again next year.

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