LOCKED IN A stalemate with the teachers union, the Philadelphia School District took a more forceful approach yesterday, asking the state Supreme Court to reaffirm its right to impose work rules, including the elimination of teacher seniority.
The filing is the climax of tense negotiations between the district and its largest union, which have been under way for more than a year. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan called the move a "bogus effort" to avoid bargaining in good faith.
"The school district and the SRC have chosen to forsake negotiating in good faith in favor of a legal end-around to avoid meaningful contract talks with the PFT," Jordan said in a statement. "The members of the PFT are partners in public education, not indentured servants."
The teachers' contract expired Aug. 31.
According to the filing, the district wants to eliminate seniority as the main factor in hiring teachers before and during the school year, and when teachers are laid off or recalled. Instead, it wants a site-selection committee composed of the school principal, other teachers and a parent to make the decision.
Seniority would be considered "if all things are equal," said Superintendent William Hite. According to Hite, the changes are vital to improve the quality of education.
"It's urgent for us because we have too many children who are still not graduating, we have too many children who do not feel like individuals care about them at schools, and we have too many individuals who are not reading at grade level," Hite said, adding that "one of the reasons for that is that we're not able, for the most part, to match the skills and abilities of adults to needs of children and schools in their communities."
Other changes being sought by the district include: eliminating the deadline for issuing layoff notices; relaxing minimum staffing requirements for counselors, librarians and teachers; giving principals the authority to determine how teachers use prep time; and the ability to hire a third-party vendor to manage substitute teachers.
Under Act 46, the School Reform Commission - the district's governing body - has special powers that include the power to suspend provisions of the school code, to reallocate resources and amend school procedures, to lay teachers off without regard to seniority and to supervise principals and teachers.
Hite said the changes must be in place as soon as possible so that officials can plan for next year. He noted that the legal action does not discuss wages or benefits, which still would have to be negotiated.
The news came the same day reports emerged that a student had knocked a staffer unconscious at Bartram High School last Friday.
Jordan said the union would oppose imposition of the changes. "The PFT believes that collaboration, not litigation, is the best way to provide our children the education they deserve," he said.