Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Philadelphia's Most Prized Public Employees

The following piece, in edited form, was published in the April 16th, 2014 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News.
It was also published, in edited form, in the April 17th-23rd, 2014 issue of the Philadelphia CityPaper.

For those of us who choose to enter urban public education, we don’t expect to get rich. The fact that we serve our fellow citizens and, in some small way, contribute toward alleviating society’s ills is often reward in itself. In exchange, we also like to see every now and then that society appreciates our efforts and our sacrifices.

Unfortunately, the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the School Reform Commission continue to denigrate and degrade us every chance that they get. When we ask for librarians to nurture a childhood spark of inquisitiveness, we get layoff notices and shuttered doors. When we ask for counselors to help guide society’s most vulnerable members through the treacherous waters of American inequity, we are given platitudes about how the money was given away in tax-breaks in order to spur economic growth. When we dare point our finger at a government that refuses to invest in our children, they shrug their shoulders and tell us it’s our fault for seeking a decent living wage.

And what of our “ludicrous” wages? Wages so high, they claim, that the SRC is seeking to forego any cost-of-living adjustments and, in fact, demanding that we give back 13% of it?

If salary is a measure of one’s worth, then society must despise the educators of our city’s youth. Earlier this month, TWU Local 234, the union that represents the city’s bus drivers, was offered an agreement by SEPTA that would give them a 5% cost-of-living wage increase over the next two years. If approved, this means that the average bus driver in the City of Philadelphia would now earn over $68,000. Meanwhile, the average city school teacher currently earns $70,790. If the SRC has its way, that figure would drop to $61,587.

SEPTA, like the School District of Philadelphia, gets a large proportion of its funding from Harrisburg. SEPTA also continuously runs deficits, like the School District, because the job of transporting commuters in one of America’s largest metropolitan areas is a Herculean task - as is the job of educating its children. 

What, therefore, are we Philadelphia educators left to believe? What should we think when one predominantly state-supported entity gets so much funding that it can afford to offer its public employees a 5% pay-raise over the next two years, but the other expects its public employees to take a 13% pay-cut?

Clearly there are priorities and these priorities do not rest with our children. 

Perhaps it’s time the teachers of this city abandon their sense of civic duty and their desire to inspire the next generation. Perhaps it’s time for them to exchange their numerous academic degrees for a driver’s license and a place behind the steering wheel.

Maybe then, we’ll finally get some appreciation.