Will demoralized teachers be more effective as collateral damage or direct targets?

A preschool classroom at FELS Paley Center in North Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY

A preschool classroom at FELS Paley Center in North Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY

The recent suggestions that Philadelphia’s professional teachers are overpaid and are expecting too many resources are damagingly misinformed.

Publicly denigrating the very professionals who are battling on the frontline is a vacant strategy. What will it improve, exactly?

Public education is in crisis mode in many urban centers, targeted for privatization by a coalition of “free-market” politicians and private profiteers. Key weapons in the battle are charter schools as one way to drain funds from already decimated public school funding. The ethical implications are horrifying. Slashed teacher headcounts on the front line, with fewer resources and larger classes, leave remaining teachers and students as collateral damage.

Those teachers still standing remain in the battle for our children’s education, but with sagging morale. Further, teachers are also enduring all sorts of continuing direct attacks, disparagement and threat from their own School District of Philadelphia, from state lawmakers, and even from a president-to-be. Recent data shared by the District itself reveals that “76 percent [of teachers] said they felt ‘not at all respected'” by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission.

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Your professional troops in any battle will not become more effective without appropriate supplies, without relief, without backup, and without the trustworthy word of leaders. The possibility of competing to retain or recruit committed professional replacements in this environment is laughable. The possibility of luring young families to fuel Philadelphia’s future growth, while normalizing a broken paradigm in public education, is a sad mirage.

Some “leaders” (better described as “managers”) like to defensively, and erroneously, parrot that they can’t maintain the troops, let alone honor their broken contract, because “there is no money” — a patently false claim. A transparent attempt by pass-the-buck-managers to wash their hands of accountability for the situation.

There is money. There is money at the district level, and at the city level, and at the state level. There has been money all along.

The school district budget alone is almost $3 billion every year. The district makes thousands of priority decisions with their $3 billion, as do the city and the state with their budgets.

“Teaching funds are not a priority” would be the proper way to state the situation — not that “there is no money.”

Nevertheless, the district continues ignoring (best case) or publicly castigating its own teachers and now sensationalizes the “one hundred million” dollars which they describe as a “package” for their teachers, who are the main engine of learning for children of Philadelphia. Sounds great until you recall that the starting point for teacher salaries, almost five years ago was 20 percent behind the nearby suburbs’ salary scales, while doing a much more difficult, more whole-life job, with far fewer and far lower-quality resources. The metaphor would be one of Philadelphia teacher cavalry, working in swamps with injured, hungry, drowning children, versus, suburban teachers, using state-of-the-art, computer-controlled drone fighter jets working over a resort with healthy cadets.

Further, recall that the latest package comes after zero “packages” since 2012, almost five years. In actuality, the “package” for those years was a negative package — the district took money away from teachers — yes, the existing, agreed-to, contractual package was taken way from teachers, in an illegal process, with no teacher voice, and it was never returned. Based on published comments from an SRC commissioner, the costs of the “takeaways” for those years has been roughly $300,000,000, at least. How do you assess “trustworthy” in the context of a broken contract and the SRC’s mid-stream takeaway of $300,000,000+ ?

Now this single new package is planned to be spread out over four years, until 2021. We should all then be looking at the impact of the package over the total nine-year window from 2012 to 2021. Then the “one hundred million” is more clearly understood as $11 million for each of those 9 years, before deducting the massive takeaways.

For perspective, the District spent $50 million, give or take, on the new curricula this year, which are proving to be worth much less. The $11 million professional teacher package is worth even less than the books?

For another perspective, if the numbers are compared fairly, on the same decimal scale, the proposed package over the nine-year window is about $0.011 of the annual $3 billion. About .036 percent of the annual budget.

We (and the public) are to believe Dr. Hite when he says the only money they can spare from $3 billion is $0.011? Wow. If that is true, we need a better budget manager.

Meanwhile, the District’s decision to negotiate publicly is adversarial to teachers whom Dr. Hite and the SRC should be working with, not against. Obviously, their relationship with their own teacher troops is at a new low. Their untrustworthy history, and their authoritarian, paternalistic, deceptive approach today is disappointing and demotivating

Daun Kauffman lives in the Hunting Park neighborhood of North Philadelphia, serving children and families on the front line in urban, public schools for 16 years. Earlier, Kauffman earned an M.Ed. from Temple University, and an MBA from Harvard University Graduate School of Business.

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