Scranton School System forces teachers to strike
AFT President Randi Weingarten says that the Scranton school district is among the nation's poorest and that the needs of teachers, children, and parents cannot be ignored. AP Photo/Cliff Owen

SCRANTON, Pa. —After years with no contract, and school board demands for big increases in teachers’ share of health care costs, teachers and staff in the Scranton, Pa., school district, members of Teachers (AFT) Local 1147, were forced to strike Nov. 3.

“See us on the picket lines. Scranton educators, parents, and students have sacrificed and sacrificed, and we are tired of holding the bag for district mismanagement. It’s bad for teachers and bad for kids,” said Scranton Federation of Teachers President Rosemary Boland the day before. Picket lines went up at 16 sites citywide during school hours, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Our children’s future is on the chopping block as state bureaucrats and our school board make cut after cut to Scranton schools,” the website schoolsscrantonkidsdeserve.org says.

The school board and a state “recovery officer,” Dr. Candis Finan, combined to short-change kids and teachers, the website says. Things are so bad that Scranton teachers haven’t had a raise since 2017 and lag from 10%-26% behind teachers in other districts in “recovery.”

The GOP-gerrymandered and GOP-run state legislature imposed such recovery plans on Pennsylvania school districts, just as a similar GOP-named state czar did in Detroit. There, the czar literally fired all the teachers and then tried to rehire only his favorites. The Detroit Federation of Teachers successfully fought that in court. Philadelphia’s AFT Local 1776 has also tangled with state lawmakers.

“First they cut prekindergarten, then libraries, music and learning help for special education students. They eliminated bus routes. They closed Bancroft Elementary. They’ve kept teacher pay frozen, all while giving central office administrators lavish raises” of 25%, the website says. It also notes that in a city that’s 6% Black and 11% Spanish-speaking, there are two Black teachers.

“In retaliation against educators for speaking out, they’ve canceled healthcare coverage effective Nov. 3. Now, they want to slash another $7 million from our kids’ education, even though the $58 million in federal recovery aid to Scranton would fund our schools without costing taxpayers a dime,” the website adds.

The aid, of course, comes from the American Recovery Act, which Congress passed early this year and the nation’s most well-known Scranton native, Democratic President Joe Biden, signed.

The school board and Finan declare any new “contract must be ‘cost-neutral,’ with all costs of the new contract paid for through cuts to staffing, pay, and benefits, the website adds.

The union says the recovery act money could pay to fill the 112 vacant teaching spots—one of every eight—in Scranton’s schools. That’s how many have left in the last few years. The local also is offering to accept higher health care co-pays and deductibles for its members, but not as much as the board wants them to yield.

“Scranton’s public schools are in crisis, and instead of fixing it fairly—using the new, available funds from the federal rescue and recovery packages—the district and the state-appointed financial manager just want teachers to keep sacrificing,” Boland said.

“The city’s great teacher and staff exodus can be traced right back to local and state officials and a long-standing austerity agenda that starved schools and educators of what they need to teach.”

“Educators have had enough. We’re on strike to fight for our students and our community,” the website declares.

“Educators didn’t create this mess, but they’re being asked year after year to pay for the district’s long-term fiscal issues,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “Scranton is one of the poorest districts in the state, one of the reasons why we need more state funding for education. You can’t possibly recruit teachers and support staff when you ask them to accept salaries below the state average and take cuts in healthcare.”

“I can’t fathom why school leaders would rather hurt teachers and punish kids with devastating cuts to pre-K, libraries, and other critical programs than use the millions of federal dollars intended for education that are pouring into the city.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

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