Teachers ask Pa. high court to dismiss SRC push to end seniority

Bill Green (right), chairman of the School Reform Commission. His tough talk helped get concessions from the principals' union.
Bill Green (right), chairman of the School Reform Commission. His tough talk helped get concessions from the principals' union. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 04, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Federation of Teachers asked the state Supreme Court yesterday to toss out a petition from the school district and the School Reform Commission that seeks to eliminate seniority and other work rules, claiming they are bargained privileges.

In its response to the district's March 24 filing, the union says the work-rule changes sought by the SRC have long been a part of the collective-bargaining agreement and are subject to the grievance-and-arbitration process, therefore the court has no jurisdiction. It also argues the changes would not address the district's financial crisis.

"This action by the SRC and its new chairman, Bill Green, is just the latest attempt by the commission - an unelected and unaccountable body - to strip teachers and other school employees of their rights, but even more important the SRC's actions do nothing to improve the learning conditions for our city's children," PFT president Jerry Jordan said in a statement.

The district has asked the state's highest court to affirm its right to implement major changes to seniority, minimum staffing requirements, preparation time and subcontracting, claiming that the changes are crucial to creating better educational outcomes. The district says it is within its rights under a law that gives the SRC special powers, including the authority to suspend provisions of the school code, to reallocate resources and amend school procedures.

The legal posturing between the two sides comes after they reached a stalemate in contract talks, which began more than a year ago.

Several state lawmakers from the Philadelphia delegation have signed a brief in support of the PFT's claim.

The court can either accept the case and allow the PFT to respond to the district's arguments or dismiss it, according to Deborah Willig, an attorney for the PFT. There is no timeline for a decision.

In 2011, the state Supreme Court refused to hear a similar case involving the district's layoffs of more than 1,600 teachers under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. The case was sent back to Common Pleas Court.

The court proceedings will not affect wages and benefits, which remain unresolved.

The district has asked the union - which represents about 11,000 district employees - for major concessions in both areas to save about $100 million.

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