The Stupendous Failure Of Big City Education: How The Philly Teachers Union Loots The Schools


It’s that time of year again – when the little juvenile delinquents, future prison inmates, and functionally illiterate junior members of the free shit army pick up their “free” backpacks and “free” school supplies they will never use and shuffle off to the decaying prison like schools in the City of Philadelphia to eat “free” breakfasts and “free” lunches, while being taught government sanctioned pablum by overpaid mediocre union teachers.

It’s a repeat of every year for the Phila school district. As the school year approaches they are shocked to report a massive deficit and beg the State of PA for more funding. The $12,000 per child simply isn’t enough, even though Parochial schools provide ten times the education for $9,000 per child. The district has a slight $80 million deficit this year. Last year they had a $100 million deficit and the mayor proposed a soda tax to fill the gap. It was defeated, so they raised property taxes instead. Mayor Nutter’s name is fitting. He is just another in a long line of Democratic mayors who have ruled Philadelphia since the 1950’s and whose policies of welfare handouts for their voting base paid for by taxing the producers, has resulted in a population decline from 2.1 million in 1950 to 1.5 million today. Doug Casey captures the essence of Philly with this definition:

Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy): a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

The liberal solution to an ever decreasing tax base and an ever growing level of benefits for the free shit army and government union drones, is to increase taxes on the few remaining producers. They then flee the city, leaving fewer producers to tax. Rinse and repeat. Your neighborhoods then look like this.

2916 West Thompson Street, Philadelphia PA

The mayor, school district superintendent, and teacher’s union use the liberal mainstream media to sound the alarm about “devastating” budget cuts that will imperil the tremendous education the cherubs will receive. They warn that the school year will have to be delayed. They peddle mistruths about the governor cutting education funding in an attempt to influence public opinion. Their “solution” to the budget deficit this year is a doozy. I’ll get to that later. First I have to provide a mural update.

I drive past the Morton McMichael grade school in Mantua every day on my way to work. It sits across the street from the $27 million low income gated townhouse community called Mantua Square, paid for with your Obama stimulus funds in 2011. (Update: The 8 storefronts built into the project two years ago and touted as a way to revitalize commerce in Mantua still sit vacant – 100% NO OCCUPANCY. This follows the old liberal economic theorem of build it and they won’t come.) This school looks like it could be in a Dickens novel from the 1800’s. That’s fitting since Morton McMichael was a prominent citizen of Philadelphia during the 1800’s as founder of the Saturday Evening Post and Mayor of Philadelphia. That was back when a white man could get elected mayor of Philadelphia.

The building is decades old. It is dilapidated, run down and crumbling. The windows have never been replaced. Of course, you would have to remove the bars and cages to get to the windows. The neighborhood has a bit of a crime problem. An 8 year old boy was raped on the way to this school last year. There are a couple ancient air conditioners poking out of some windows. The parking lot/play area is crumbling blacktop with weeds, strewn with garbage for good measure. Graterford Prison is more inviting than this institution of learning. The parking lot was empty all summer. The Phila School district had no plans for any capital renovations at this school. No new windows. No new classrooms. No new technology. No central air conditioning.

Then about a month ago I noticed scaffolding going up in front of the school. Maybe they were going to actually do some renovations to improve this blight. Then I noticed they were just painting the bricks white. A few days later it became clear. Rather than making actual improvements to the decaying structure, it was another mural. Of course another white artist, not from the neighborhood, was getting paid to beautify the school to inspire the children on to great deeds. They chose an environmental theme rather than black people doing great things. It looks like graffiti to me.

Maf Is Hard

I’m sure this paint job, paid for with tax dollars, will really turn this school around. They have had four principals in the last three years. The discipline in this school is so bad that teachers fear assaults from students and parents alike. This is another classic example of liberals wasting money with shallow displays, while ignoring the true problems. This school has 408 students and 35 full-time union teachers. That is a ratio of 11.7 students per teacher. The ratio in Parochial schools is 17 to 1. When I went to school it was over 20 to 1. With an 11.7 students per teacher ratio, they should be getting a great education from these top notch educators. Check out the results:

Dark Blue – Morton McMichael; Light Blue – Phila Schools; Grey – PA schools

By 5th grade less than 30% can do math, less than 20% can read, and less than 10% can write at a proficient level. And you can bet that proficient level is not that high. The state results are bad enough, but the Philadelphia results are atrocious. In Philadelphia, only 33 – 13% of the district’s 250 schools met state standards, down from 41% in 2011. It was uncovered that they were cheating on the test scores in 2011. Liberals lie and cheat when it comes to getting funding. The Morton McMichael school has 35 full-time union teachers earning good money, with gold plated healthcare and pension plans. And this is the results they are producing? I came across a quote from William Arthur Ward today that applies:

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Based on the results achieved in this school there doesn’t appear to be even a mediocre teacher in the bunch. You have a better chance of finding a woman with a wedding ring, a man with a job, or a kid with a book in his hand in Mantua (highly unlikely in all three cases) than ever finding a great teacher in a Philadelphia school. But at least they are well paid.

The Philadelphia school system educates (I use the term loosely as 50% dropout) 200,000 kids per year with a tiny budget of $2.4 billion. The district has been so poorly run and corrupt that a state commission now runs the schools. They insist that $2.4 billion isn’t enough to achieve SAT scores not much higher than you get for signing your name. How is it that a school district that spends more than the national average per student can’t manage to educate children properly? One look at its personnel costs and perks, including exploding pensions and legal services for union members, gives you an idea why.

The storyline from the liberal media, greedy teacher’s union, and captured Democratic politicians is that the evil Republican governor Corbett has gutted their funding. It’s a completely false storyline. The $800 billion Obama porkulus plan doled out payoffs to teacher unions around the country. The temporary stimulus funds expired. In the mind of an idiotic liberal, this is considered a spending cut. Temporary = permanent in the demented mind of a liberal. The truth is that Philadelphia union teachers are overpaid and under-worked. The PA government pension plan is a ticking time bomb that is destroying the budgets of every locality in the State. It’s just that Philadelphia is the worst run, most corrupt, and most union controlled in the State.

Philadelphia school district pensions costs alone are going from the equivalent of 16.9% of wages to 21.4% of wages in one year. In dollar terms that’s an increase of $3,230 per average teacher in just one year. Pensions alone will cost $159 million next year. Philly schools also pay for a number of other benefits, including the equivalent of 3.26% of salary for unused sick and vacation days that workers can cash in when they leave. In all, these variable benefit items will add the equivalent of nearly 39% of salary to the cost of employing a worker.

The school’s budget also includes a range of per capita benefit costs, so called because they are expressed in dollars per worker, not percent of salary. Medical insurance averages $13,829 per worker, up by $1,000. Then there are health and welfare benefits, which are additional health perks, such as prescription eye benefits. H&W, as it’s known, costs an average of $4,447 more per teacher. They even offer legal services to workers at a cost of $165 per worker.

For the average teacher earning $68,700 annually, benefit costs pile on an additional $44,100, meaning the average cost of employing a teacher in the system is $112,700. Benefit costs, in other words, amount to two-thirds of salaries. By contrast, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the total cost of benefits in the private sector amounts to 30% of salaries.

AVERAGE COSTS, TYPICAL PHILLY SCHOOL DISTRICT

philly

So let me get this straight. The average Philadelphia teacher is receiving compensation and benefits of $112,700 and 50% of the students dropout, while of the remaining students only 45% can do math, 35% can read, and 30% can write. But at least they have some nice murals dotting the decaying schools.

Every new year will bring higher pension payment requirements. PA has $55 billion of unfunded pension benefits payable to government union workers and teachers. Annual pension contributions increased by 25% or more in the majority of education systems last year and that more than three-quarters of districts are anticipating a similar increase this year. By 2020, school officials in the state estimate, pensions will amount to more than 30% of payroll, up from just 4% in 2009. This is a crisis that grows larger by the day and is willfully ignored by politicians beholden to these government unions.

Last year, on average, workers with 35-39 years of service who retired in a school system had a final annual salary of $80,285 and a pension of $60,396, or about 75% of final salary. Not bad for turning out functionally illiterate morons. Rather than accept the fact that the government pension system is a disaster and needs a massive makeover, the feckless politicians choose higher taxes and annual gimmicks.

What Are They Smoking

Guess how Mayor Nutter, the School Superintendent, and the Democratic politicians want to fund the $80 million school district budget? A $2 per pack additional cigarette tax in the City of Philadelphia. Cigarette taxes are supposed to fund the detrimental societal healthcare costs of smoking. Instead they are being used to fund bloated teacher pensions. Local governments are incapable of imposing excise taxes, so the PA legislature must pass this law. So far they have not complied, but they will come September because it is the easy solution. Why tackle pension reform when you can just increase taxes on the poor to pay for bad teachers?

The multitude of things wrong with this idea is beyond comprehension. Why foist the cost onto a minority — and given the demographics of those who smoke, a poor minority? Although local governments try to tax cigarettes and even alcohol, there’s no money in taxing vices. It’s too easy to purchase cigarettes outside the city. Why would anyone buy cigarettes in Philly when they can go into the next County and pay 50% less? There is already a $1.60 PA state tax on every pack of cigarettes. Adding another $2 would put Philly just behind NYC and Chicago on the tax scale. The imposition of this tax will increase bootlegging, smuggling and other criminal activities. Just what Philly needs – more crime. They can then use that as a reason to hire more union cops. It’s the liberal circle of life.

The people who should be most angry about this “solution” are the very people who keep voting idiotic Democrats into office for decades – poor black people. Only 23% of Philadelphians have a college degree. Those without a degree are more than twice as likely to smoke. Cigarette taxes are a tax on the stupid.

There are 580,000 households in Philadelphia. The median household income is $34,000 and 26% of the population lives below the poverty line. Approximately 300,000 of the households make less than $36,000 and 400,000 make less than $60,000. The lower the household income the higher the percentage who smoke. So the master plan of the Democrats who run Philly is to deplete what little disposable income the poor have left in order to pay the bloated salaries and pensions of terrible teachers.

The average income of a worker in Philly is $22,000. 38% of these people smoke, versus 12% of those making over $90,000. This cigarette tax is built upon the same warped logic as government run casinos and lotteries. It’s a tax on the ignorant and least able to afford the tax.

The sheer idiocy of this plan to “save” the schools this year is lost on the brainless media twits mouthing the teacher’s union talking points. The $12,000 per year per child is more than enough to pay for a decent education. The $2.4 billion budget should be geared to improving facilities, providing books, and paying excellent teachers for excellent results. Tenure should be scrapped and lousy teachers should be fired. The government pension plan needs to be obliterated and replaced with a 401k plan like the rest of the world is stuck with. It will never happen. The democrats who have controlled Philly for the last 60 years will raise property taxes, raise sales taxes, and raise cigarette taxes until they drive every producer and business out of the city, while further impoverishing the very people they pretend to care about. Detroit here we come.

Remember, smoke a cigarette for the children. And remember to buy them in Philly for 50% more than you pay in the suburbs. It’s always for the children.

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  • Dan Lynch

    It’s discouraging to see this sort of rant on Washington’s Blog.

    Test scores correlate to parent’s income. If you have poor students, you will have low test scores. If you are in an affluent suburb, you will have high test scores. Stop testing and stop worrying about test scores.

    Yes, state and local pensions and health care programs are a growing cost — because we lack a national pension program that you can actually live on, and we lack a national health care system.

    Solution: roll all private and public pensions into Social Security. Make the SS retirement benefit $2500/month regardless what was paid in. Pay for it with keystrokes. Offer free public health care for every American citizen and get rid of health insurance. Pay for it with keystrokes.

    I do agree with the author that funding schools with regressive taxes is a bad idea. I also agree that teacher’s salaries should be in line with other professional salaries.

    Funding schools with local regressive taxes is a problem, instead schools should be funded at a national level like Finland does it.

    • jimmydominic

      agreed. It’s sad to see this type of article on this website.

    • Emblematic

      “Test scores correlate to parent’s income”
      It’s almost like intelligence is biologically heritable or something.

    • Hi Jacks

      Some of us don’t want free heath care. Some of us don’t want to eat GMO.

      I thought the author did a nice job presenting the issues. However, I disagree with the Union slamming. Management is the problem. No leadership, in order to deflect attention from this fact, the common tactic is to blame the union. How do I know this? because I live in a city down south and the same argument is presented over and over. Republicans want to get their hand on the public dollar to assist in private school.

    • jandr0

      [It’s discouraging to see this sort of rant on Washington’s Blog.]

      That is your subjective opinion. I didn’t see it as a rant.

      [Test scores correlate to parent’s income. If you have poor students, you will have low test scores. If you are in an affluent suburb, you will have high test scores.]

      I suspect your use of absolutes (“high” versus “low”) reflects your preconceived view. While I agree that test scores in more affluent areas will be highER, and in less affluent areas lowER, the tone of your use of absolutes make it sound as if this is a necessary and sufficient explanation for the totality of the observed poor results at the school.

      I do not buy your reductionist argument (especially given the manner in which you explicitly used absolutes to subliminally colour it).

      We are talking about a ratio of 11.7 students per teacher in this school, for goodness sake. I have friends who teach (not in the best of areas, but admittedly also not the worst) where the ratio is in the regionof 40 students per teacher and they deliver much better results.

      [Stop testing and stop worrying about test scores.]

      You cannot manage what you cannot control. You can not control what you cannot measure. You cannot measure what you cannot define.

      Do NOT stop measuring (in this case, test scores). However, I would concur that WHAT is being measured (e.g. the composition of the test scores) may deserve reconsideration. But whatever you do, do not stop measuring.

      [Yes, state and local pensions and health care programs are a growing cost — because we lack a national pension program that you can actually live on, and we lack a national health care system.]

      Huh? Both of them (local and national) remain costs that must come out of the collective “public” purse. Simply moving the intermediate source of money around does NOT address one of the core issues in the article: the total costs that is high and growing must come out of the same ultimate source: the collective public purse.

      [Solution: roll all private and public pensions into Social Security. Make the SS retirement benefit $2500/month regardless what was paid in. Pay for it with keystrokes. Offer free public health care for every American citizen and get rid of health insurance. Pay for it with keystrokes.]

      Again you continue with tapping and reorganising the seeming never-ending source of goodies (a veritable stream of money) that you apparently imagine just falls out of the sky.

      The article makes it clear that actual producers will move when they begin to feel they are being taxed to pieces by those “consumers” of freebies. But you do not address THAT issue.

      [I do agree with the author that funding schools with regressive taxes is a bad idea.]

      On this it seems we all agree.

      [I also agree that teacher’s salaries should be in line with other professional salaries.]

      No salary should EVER be in line with some vacuous “other professional salaries.” A salary should always be in line with performance.

      This notion of paying everyone similar salaries no matter the performance is the most insidious nonsense (apologies, but I do not know how to put that more politely – actually I feel it is even worse).

      [Funding schools with local regressive taxes is a problem, instead schools should be funded at a national level like Finland does it.]

      I beg to completely differ. Schools should be funded (and managed) at the most LOCAL level possible.

      If you aren’t au fait with it, that is essentially what is called the principle of subsidiarity. It is a fine principle – although I am wary of advocating even it, given politicians propensity to conjure up any and every plausible excuse they can to revert to centralism and greater pork barrels.

      In short: the problem is too much government and too much institutionalised wasting of resources (especially with governmental bureaucrat free-riding and exploitation of moral hazard facilitated by the “aw shame” approach you epitomise). And to think your ostensible “answer” to that problem is even more of the same things that causes the problem!

      Goodness me, talk about hitting your head against a wall, feeling the pain, and trying to fix it by hitting your head even harder.

  • ginko

    yeah- blame the teacher’s. It’s obvious that they should be able to reverse the effects of crushing poverty and hours and hours of mindless entertainment and three centuries of racism and an economy that shipped all the jobs to China and gave the rest to illegal immigrants. What a crock of malarkey- to what purpose?

    • Emblematic

      If you must blame something, blame evolution.
      It’s not teachers’ fault blacks are stupid.

  • Carl_Herman

    I’m a public school teacher, Jim. I know from 30+ years in this field that teachers are generally among the kindest and most generous people on the planet. I also know from my “hobby” lobbying to end poverty that “leadership” are so psychopathically corrupt that I am challenged to present the factual evidence that can result in just 10% public recognition of their evil.

    So, given an agenda from “leaders” to silence independent educators, like me, by framing them as corrupt and incompetent in order to privatize education and fire people like me at will, I’m alarmed at the context you present.

    Perhaps this particular union is dirty. But having the title to damn all big cities???

    How about this instead: let’s apply basic education for the arrests of the lying leaders in government and corporate media who war-murder millions, and collude with banksters to loot trillions. Then, let’s see what education looks like.

  • paul

    I concur – what a horrible rant. Schools in poverty stricken areas are expected, in our society, to try to make up for societal deficits. That is close to impossible. That is why it would hard for them to make a difference to the kids if they had twice the money to spend – and probably that is precisely what they SHOULD have, for starters. Yes yes yes, they need to run expensive programs to try to help the community make up for the poverty deficit, to try to help those who are left behind the most by society and by the economy. The logic of that really is obvious, and it’s not bleeding heart liberal logic. It’s plain sense.

  • MCB

    Great post.

    “School Teachers taking them by and large are probably the most ignorant and stupid class of men in the whole class of mental workers.” – H. L. Mencken – 1908

    • MCB

      In no way does that apply to you Carl. I simply was making a tongue in check quote via Mencken. I’m sorry if I offended you Carl. 🙁

      • Carl_Herman

        no problemo, amigo. My observation is that while teachers are generally kind people, their overall capacity to see the big ideas is no greater than other college-educated Americans. I empathize with Mencken’s observations: it seems our place as humans, so far, is to have so few of us pointing at the important facts that we are to be noticed only, provide choice, but not have enough to employ solutions, again, like these: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/06/public-banking-conference-good-news-all-solutions-already-here-for-deficits-debt-full-employment.html

        • MCB

          You already know that I hold you in the highest regard Carl and you are one of the “Top 10” people that I’ve ever met in my lifetime in my book. And I’ve been fortunate to have met, corresponded and worked with and cultivated some truly amazing friendships from all of those people. You are one of those rare, brilliant and mindful people with depth ,insights and a wonderfully introspective and kind demeanor and a mind to match your intellect. All of my respect goes out to you every time I’m privileged to read any number of your wonderful op-ed pieces. Thanks for being such a great guy and an awesome Facebook pen pal. 🙂

  • Scott Neagle

    Is this a fucking joke? This racist trash is shockingly out of line with the excellent content I’ve come to expect on Washington’s Blog.

    • Emblematic

      reality is racist.

  • Emblematic

    “This is another classic example of liberals wasting money with shallow displays, while ignoring the true problems”
    But the true problems are unsolvable because the true ‘problem’ has it’s basis in genes.
    The refusal to see that means all the other arguments and theories are worthless.

  • wunsacon

    JimQ, to reach out to people of all ideologies who visit this site, please tone down the “rant”.

  • Jay

    I call on the author of this article, Jim Q, to identify himself and to disclose any conflicts of interest, lobbying ties, or associations he may have, including connections to the private charter school industry, the financial industry, or any political pressure group such as ALEC or those funded by the Koch brothers.

  • Letem Dangle

    This is happening everywhere in North America. Philli is just off to a faster start.

  • Hi Jacks

    “Remember, smoke a cigarette for the children. And remember to buy them in Philly for 50% more than you pay in the suburbs. It’s always for the children.”

    PAPAHAHA

  • M@

    Im with the author. instead of the union trying to address the failing school grades, they are trying to play power politics with diminishing resources. The kids aren’t getting educated, thus they are not creating the environment where that can happen. Im a liberal but there should be some accountability. If they are not learning, then there should be changes made. Im sure that there are competent teachers that could work for that type of salary and benefits, but they would probably would oust the leaders of the union so the union makes sure that the teachers in the schools are on the side of the corrupt union leaders and the union protects the incompetent teachers. the leadership could care less the kids are learning, they just don’t want to lose their positions of power. They don’t understand, that they are going to lose control eventually, because the resources will run out and, they won’t be getting any of those retirement benefits in the future. look at Detroit. Same dynamic different city