Pa. Education Department sides with SRC on work-rule changes

School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green in his new office in Philadelphia on February 25, 2014. ( DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer )

The state is backing the Philadelphia School Reform Commission's request for a court ruling that would allow it to impose work-rule changes, including disregarding seniority for teacher assignments, transfers, layoffs, and recalls.

In documents filed with the state Supreme Court late Thursday, the Department of Education said such changes were "essential to the SRC's mission of stabilizing the district's finances."

Jerry Jordan, president of the 10,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which has challenged the SRC's position, said Saturday he was stunned by the Education Department's filing.

The SRC two weeks ago filed a petition asking the state high court to declare that the law that led to the state takeover of city schools in 2001 gave the commission the power to impose work rules.

On that same day, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the district would impose work-rule changes that would permit principals to fill teacher vacancies next fall without regard to seniority.

In its response to the SRC petition, the PFT said every change the SRC sought had been traditionally subject to collective bargaining.

Hite had said the changes were aimed at giving the district flexibility to ensure teachers were the best fits for their schools and would not result in any saving for the cash-strapped district.

Jordan questioned the department's concerns for the district's fiscal health, given that it has had several financial shortfalls since the state takeover, and said Gov. Corbett was largely to blame for the district's financial crisis.

"The governor claims he thinks schools in Philadelphia are important," Jordan said. "Yet he has cut more than $300 million in funding since he has been governor, and we have suffered tremendously."

"The only group that hasn't stepped up for the students of Philadelphia is the teachers' union," said Jim Schultz, general counsel to the governor.