Phila. teacher talks to resume Saturday

Posted: September 01, 2013

On the day the Philadelphia teachers' contract expires, the school district and union negotiators were expected to return to the bargaining table Saturday to continue tense negotiations that both sides say have shown little progress.

"We're still very far apart," Deborah Willig, a union lawyer said after 13 hours of bargaining were wrapping up Friday night. "Every proposal the district has made is to take something away."

The financially struggling district is seeking $103 million in concessions from the union, which represents 15,000 teachers, secretaries, counselors, nurses, and aides. The district has asked for wage cuts of 5 to 13 percent, concessions on health insurance, and flexibility in assigning teachers to schools without regard for seniority. It also wants to pay teachers raises - though not next year - strictly based on performance, and extend the teacher work day by 56 minutes to eight hours.

Union officials have said they will not accept wage cuts. But on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers announced that it would forgo raises for at least one year and make changes to its health insurance coverage to save the district money.

Union president Jerry Jordan has declined to say how much the union proposal would save. But a district source said Friday that the amount was "very low."

A union source said Friday that there had been no progress in the talks since Wednesday's announcement by the union.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. declined to characterize the negotiations. "We're still at the table," he said late Friday afternoon. "It's a day to day thing."

As bargaining continues, the start of the school year looms.

Teachers are scheduled to return to school on Tuesday, and the district's 136,000 students are to return Monday, Sept. 9.

Teachers and students will return to find schools reeling from deep staff cutbacks. Facing a $304 million deficit, the district laid off nearly 3,900 employees in June, including assistant principals, teachers, and aides. It has since recalled about 1,600 workers.

On Friday, the district recalled 45 assistant principals who had been laid off. Schools with 850 students were allowed to recall one assistant principal; those with 1,500 or more students could recall two, said Rob McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators.

Altogether, only 37 of 212 schools will have assistant principals, called back in seniority order.

McGrogan said assistant principals were given 40 minutes, from noon to 12:40 p.m., to respond to a call to come to work on Tuesday. He said he understands the "time-sensitive element," describing it as a "legitimate attempt" to make sure the schools had an assistant principal on the job on Tuesday.

But he said he had spent much of the afternoon trying to sort out what happens to assistant principals with higher seniority who were unable to receive the call.

"If they were driving to the Shore or to the mountains, they might have missed the call," McGrogan said. "That's why my phone has been surgically attached to my ear."

Hite would not say what would happen if an agreement with the union could not be reached on Saturday.

"We're focusing on settling by the end of the day," he said. "We haven't really reviewed options beyond that."

The district and teachers could agree to extend the contract, as has happened in previous negotiations.

In 2004, the district and teachers agreed to extend the contract that expired Aug. 31 three times and finally reached an agreement in mid-October.

In 2008, the sides extended the contract several times after it expired and approved a new agreement in January 2010.

But this time, the district needs the money from union concessions to restore key personnel and services and close a budget hole, Hite said.

There has been speculation that the district may impose contract terms, though it is unclear such a move would survive a court challenge.

The union could consider such a move a lockout and not report to work, one source close to the negotiations said.

In 2000, Mayor John F. Street imposed terms on the union about a month after the contract expired, and the union called a strike that lasted only a weekend before a new agreement was reached. That negotiation, however, took place before the 2001 state takeover of the district.

Teachers now could lose their certification if they strike.


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq. Read her blog at www.inquirer.com/campusinq

Inquirer staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen contributed to this article.

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