The Philadelphia teachers’ union is taking a shot at Mayor Michael Nutter with a new ad campaign.
The group’s TV, radio, newspaper and online advertisements tie Nutter, a Democrat, to Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, who has been knocked for cutting schools funding in past years.
“You’ve sided with Gov. Corbett, against my kids, against their teachers,” says public school parent and activist Kia Hinton of Nutter in the radio ad. “You’ve let us down. You’ve been starving our kids of the education they deserve.”
These ads come in the midst of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ contract negotiations with the School Reform Commission. The SRC and Superintendent William Hite are asking teachers to accept pay and benefit cuts in order to help shore up the school district’s budget.
A voice-over in the PFT’s radio spot says, “Over the past three years, Mayor Nutter has stood with Gov. Corbett as he gutted funding for Philadelphia’s public schools, putting kids’ safety at risk, overcrowding classrooms.”
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said there is no truth to the ad’s characterization of Nutter. He said the mayor is fighting tooth and nail for the city’s schoolkids.
“I think the ad is unfair and inaccurate, and is union propaganda,” he said. “I understand why they might want to put something out like that. It would take the public’s collective eye off the ball. The ball, by the way, is in the negotiations at the bargaining table between the SRC and the teachers union.”
McDonald pointed out that Nutter has signed into law property and use-and-occupancy tax hikes in order to raise money for the Philadelphia School District. He has also proposed a soda tax and a liquor-by-the-drink tax increase, which were both shot down by City Council, as well as a cigarette tax, which Council passed but Harrisburg rejected, for the same reason.
The Corbett administration, meanwhile, has said that the state is making historic investments in education. Corbett argues that most of the school cuts occurred in past years as a result of federal stimulus money drying up.
Facing a $304 million budget gap, the Philadelphia School District this year asked for an additional $60 million from the city, $120 million from the state, and $133 million in labor concessions.
Union says Corbett is the culprit
The city government has pledged $78 million. The state provided an extra $2 million, and the Corbett administration said it will kick in another $45 million if the PFT agrees to a new contract that includes financial givebacks and work-rule changes.
So far, the PFT has not made any concessions. Its contract agreement expires Aug. 31.
PFT spokesman George Jackson defended the ads as accurate. He said they reflected the union’s belief that Nutter should more aggressively criticize Corbett, instead of targeting the PFT.
Nutter said recently that the teachers’ union should “step up,” and that it is the only group at the table that hasn’t yet offered up a financial contribution for this year’s budget crisis.
Mayoral spokesman McDonald said that the PFT should make health-care concessions. He noted that most PFT members do not contribute any percentage of their salaries for health insurance, though they do pitch in co-payments.
“In this day and age, this economy, this world, that is surprising to say the least,” he said. “That’s an area where the PFT needs to participate in the shared pain.”
When asked about the possibility of health-care givebacks, PFT president Jerry Jordan has not expressed outright opposition, as he has when questioned about pay cuts. He said Philadelphia teachers make much less than those in surrounding districts, while facing much more challenging work environments.
PFT’s Jackson declined to say how much their ads cost. He said the ad buy was “substantial,” and paid for with the help of the American Federation of Teachers and its Pennsylvania chapter.