Seniority rule may be done for in PA schools


By Maura Pennington |

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania soon may be able to dismiss its more senior teachers in favor of its most qualified.

House Bill 1722 proposes amending state law to protect excellent educators in the classroom. The House Education Committee this week OK’d the measure by 16-8 vote.

State Rep. Jake Wheatley was one of two Democrats who voted in favor of amending the state’s 1949 Public School Code.

Right now, districts are prohibited from furloughing teachers for budgetary reasons, though staff cuts can be made in the face of declining enrollment or when entire programs are eliminated. But when that happens, the cuts are based on seniority — the last teacher hired is the first one fired.

The proposed amendment to the state’s 1949 Public School Code allows for economic furloughs with layoffs based on performance rather than seniority.

“The last time we had cuts, we lost 16 distinguished teachers not based on anything but seniority. If we’re going to have to make tough decisions, we have to be sure districts can make decisions that are fair and equitable,” said Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny.

Wheatley was one of two Democrats on the committee who voted in favor of the bill. He represents Pittsburgh, which pioneered a teacher evaluation program.

All of the state’s school districts now have an educator effectiveness system in place, making it easier to determine who is having the greatest impact in the classroom, though seniority-based staffing remains in place for 499 districts.

As previously reported, Philadelphia already ended seniority-based staffing after approval from the School Reform Commission. The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has challenged the move in court.

Teachers’ unions in the state argue that without the protection they now have, senior teachers who are paid higher salaries will be more vulnerable if cuts are done to save money.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association and education reform groups support the amendment.

“Research shows that teacher effectiveness is the most important in-school factor contributing to student achievement, and we believe that all students, regardless of their address, deserve to share the classroom with an effective teacher,” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN, a nonprofit for education reform advocacy.

Apart from the provisions regarding furloughs and seniority, an amendment offered by Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer, eliminated language that would have awarded tenure after five years in the classroom instead of three.

The bill awaits a House vote.

Contact Maura Pennington at and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.