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PFT Union President: Philly Teachers Are Prepared To Step Up

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PHILADELPHIA -

With the Philadelphia Federation of Teacher's membership under intense pressure to share the sacrifice needed to balance the school budget, union president Jerry Jordan went before reporters to insist to the city that teachers are prepared to step up. The announcement was bold, but vague.

"My recommendations will be to forego a salary increase and make changes to our health care and benefits in order to find the savings," says Jerry Jordan.

The district wants teachers to accept pay cuts, ranging from 5-to-13 percent. Jordan ruled that out in favor of a wage freeze, and he couldn't or wouldn't say how long a wage freeze would last.

The district wants teachers to contribute something to their health benefits. Jordan couldn't or wouldn't say what kinds of changes he would propose.

Finally, the district wants 103-million dollars in concessions from the union. Jordan couldn't or wouldn't commit to that dollar amount.

"But I can assure you that we're talking millions of dollars," says Jordan. "These are unprecedented circumstances that we are in."

Teachers' concessions will not, in and of themselves, solve the school budget crisis. Even give-backs totaling 103-million would not allow for the rehiring of all the nearly 3,900 district employees laid off in June.

"We are just trying to piece together a way to open schools safely for Philadelphia's children," says Jordan. "This is our way of doing what teachers do every day, and that's give when the children are involved."

Jordan's plan was to present his pay-and-benefits proposal to the district at today's bargaining session and discuss it with his members on Monday. But key stakeholders are already pouring cold water on the plan: both the school district and Mayor Nutter said today that the savings are insufficient. And a spokesman for the state budget secretary said that the reforms do not go far enough to free up that extra state funding.

District teachers have loudly denounced the state, the school district and the mayor, claiming they have all sold city schools short.

But this week, the other side fired back. In interviews on Monday, superintendent Hite renewed his call for a 5-to-13 percent pay cuts for union teachers.

"No one wants to, but it's recognizing that this is a very tough set of circumstances that we're trying to navigate through. And we're going to need for everyone to share in the sacrifice," said Superintendent William Hite.

At a news conference later that day, Mayor Nutter took aim at the teachers' health benefits.

"No one's been able to make an argument that made any sense to me, as to why this particular group of employees should pay ZERO for their health care, in an environment where, of course, health care costs are growing," says Nutter.

With teachers under such scrutiny, some wonder why Jerry revealed his plans to the press, before bringing it to the district, or even his own members.

So I asked Jordan.

"Are you feeling pressure to get out the word to the public that, 'hey, we are doing something and here's what we're doing'?"

"I'm listening to my members, and my members are the ones who have been saying all summer what it is that the students need in schools," answers Jordan.

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