Pa. high court won't take up school district work rules

Posted: June 27, 2014

THE STATE SUPREME COURT will not weigh in on the School Reform Commission's authority to overhaul work rules for teachers, including disregarding seniority in assignments and layoffs.

The court issued the order yesterday, with two of the seven justices dissenting. The one-page ruling does not explain why the court declined to hear the case.

Both the SRC and the teachers union offered vastly different interpretations of the order, with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers calling it a victory.

"I think the court is saying, 'We're not going to bless this action. If you want to take it, it will be a labor dispute like any other that can be resolved either through collective bargaining or grievance or arbitration dispute,' " said Deborah Willig, an attorney for the PFT.

In a joint statement, SRC chairman Bill Green and Superintendent William Hite expressed disappointment over the court's decision, but said it was not a ruling "on the merits of the case."

"However, the denial will lengthen the time for resolving important legal issues and obtaining needed clarity for planning and implementation purposes. The School District and SRC will not back away from our efforts to achieve important reforms, and to use our authority under the Distressed School District Law for this purpose," the statement said.

In March, the SRC and the district asked the court for permission to impose certain work-rule changes, including teacher assignments, transfers, layoffs, recalls, preparation time and subcontracting substitute teachers.

They argued that, because the contract with teachers had expired, they could impose the changes, based on special powers given to the SRC by the General Assembly. They claimed the changes were critical to improving student success.

The district began instituting the changes last fall when hundreds of teachers and counselors were recalled.

The PFT argued that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case because the issues have been part of the collective-bargaining agreement since the SRC was established in 2001, and should be subject to the grievance and arbitration process.

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