Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up

Part 95 of 93 in the series Educating America

The School District of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers await court ruling.

By Maura Pennington | Watchdog.org

PHILADELPHIA — Tension is heightening between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers over the suspension of seniority rules.

In a state Supreme Court filing last week, the district asked for a speedy decision from the high court on whether it would be able to suspend those rules, against the wishes of the PFT, which represents 16,000 educators. The two sides are facing off in court after the district and the School Reform Commission, which is its governing body, announced it would end the practice of “last hired, first fired.”

“The time for debating necessary changes in work rules and practices has run out,” argued the district and SRC in a filing with the court on April 7.

In March, Superintendent William Hite made the announcement that seniority would no longer be the sole basis for teaching assignments in the coming school year.

The district filed an original petition with the court to receive confirmation the SRC has the authority to suspend the “last in, first out” provision that applies elsewhere in the state.

According to the district, the SRC has the right to change work rules without approval from the PFT, not only because the SRC was granted unique powers under Act 46 in 2001 to address the Philadelphia public school system’s financial distress, but also because the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union has been expired since August 2013.

After the state Department of Education filed a brief in support of the district, PFT president Jerry Jordan called out the school district for creating the very problem it was now trying to solve.

“One of the most ridiculous assertions made by the PDE’s brief is that the SRC needs the freedom to impose working conditions in schools because of the district’s financial distress — a crisis that was created by the very administration the SRC represents,” he said in a statement.

The PFT argues the work rule change will not fix the district’s finances and so there is no case to be made.

The school district, however, cites the immediacy of the issue given staffing decisions are already being made for next September.

There is the potential risk for “substantial educational disruption and harm to students if the changes they have been implementing must be upended after the 2014-2015 school year begins,” the district said.

Contact Maura Penningon at mpennington@watchdog.org and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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