With teachers' contract negotiations stalled, the School District announced earlier this week that it would be unilaterally making changes to a range of work rules that govern staffing in schools, while asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to affirm the District's power to do so.
Chief among those changes is the issue of seniority, which in the fall, the District says, will no longer be a deciding factor in where teachers are placed. Instead, principals, with help from a school-based "site selection" team, will have decision-making power in the hiring of teachers and other staff. The District also said that seniority will not be the deciding factor in layoffs and recalls.
The Notebook invited written reactions from key education stakeholders to the news that the District would be enforcing changes to staffing policies. We received the following responses.
Members of the Coalition for Effective Teaching
(Six member groups: Congreso, Economy League, Philadelphia Education Fund, PCCY, Urban Affairs Coalition, and Urban League)
As members of the Coalition for Effective Teaching, we commend the District and the SRC for adopting the Coalition’s recommendations for improving how teachers are placed in schools via the hiring and transfer process. We believe that resting teacher selection decisions with principals and committees of teachers and community members will ensure a better fit for teachers and promote more cohesive school teams that work together to help our students achieve.
However, the fact that the District and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were not able to reach agreement on these reforms via the contract negotiation process is disappointing. More students will succeed in our schools if management and teachers are working together to improve student learning.
It is now incumbent on the District to ensure these reforms are implemented well. They must provide the guidance and support principals and their site selection teams need to effectively, fairly recruit and hire staff.
Further, the District’s elimination of the minimum staffing requirements in schools for counselors and librarians take us in the wrong direction. Where so many of our students are more likely to succeed if they could rely on the assistance of a counselor and the academic support of a librarian, further reductions in these position will put more students at risk of failure. To the degree that financial concerns are driving these changes, we urge advocacy for adequate funding rather than reduction in essential positions.
We also understand that the contract negotiations have been made more difficult because the District suffered deep cuts in state aid and rising pension and other costs. We recognize that both the union and the administration care deeply about the students in the District. However, we believe that all parties must recommit themselves to reaching an agreement on a contract so that the real work of educating our children can become the common focus of everyone employed in the District.
City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown
I stand firmly on the side of teachers and their right to collectively bargain for a fair and competitive contract. We must encourage a fair dialogue, respectful of the working conditions teachers need to succeed. Where teachers succeed, students succeed.
What is lost in the conversation of wages, seniority, hours, and site selection is the issue of talent retention. Workplace quality of life is a direct link to keeping the most talented teachers here in the School District of Philadelphia. The question should be, “How do we create a workplace quality of life that retains strong, committed and talented educators?”
The School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers can take lessons from other districts that have negotiated site selection and pay systems that put the needs of students first. Ultimately, we must come to a comprehensive, holistic package that gives Philadelphia a competitive edge in the talent bidding war. We need to hear from teachers themselves, through the collective bargaining process that which they need to succeed.
If we shortchange our teachers, we are ceding the battle to attract the best and brightest educators from the get-go. You get what you pay for, so we must use our resources, our collective ideas and energy to recruit and retain talent.
State Rep. James Roebuck, D-Phila.
Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee
I am writing to express my concerns regarding the recent announcement by the School District on new staffing guidelines for the 2014-2015 school year. While everyone agrees that every student deserves a good teacher, I am concerned about how these new staffing guidelines will affect our students and schools.
According to the District, "The new guidelines will prioritize staffing decisions based on student and school needs; a committee comprised of the principal, teachers and a parent will determine teacher staffing at each school." I have real concerns that, given the abuses associated with past site selection hiring practices of teachers, there be an equal opportunity for all teachers in a school to be considered in staffing a school.
I am requesting specific information on these new guidelines and how they will be implemented at schools and that these new guidelines and how they are to be implemented be distributed to both the existing teachers at each school and to the parents at each school. There must be transparency and accountability in this process of staffing our schools with the most qualified teachers.
Whatever is done should be fair to teachers and should be built on a partnership between teachers and the SRC, rather than an adversarial relationship.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes
This is an issue best settled at the contract table through negotiations. I am disappointed that the SRC continues to go in this direction, when that was not the original intent when the SRC language was drafted over a decade ago. The SRC must determine a better and more thoughtful way to work with the educators and other school district personnel, who are on the front line in the education of our children.
This is a manifestation of the strangulation of the Philadelphia School District, through hundreds of millions of dollars of budgetary cuts that the governor has been successful in securing. We have schools that are in crisis with insufficient staff and resources, schools that are in lockdown, and schools that are loosing their status as state-of-the-art models of education. Until those resources are replenished, and we can make sure that every school is a high-quality academic institution, it is imperative that everyone works together. That is the only way to get through this crisis.
The action the SRC has taken does not indicate a desire for a spirit of cooperation. I only hope that we can forestall the implementation of their directive to abandon the bargaining table, and that a more cooperative tone can be taken. The children only suffer in the current climate.
Philadelphia School Partnership, executive director
We applaud Dr. Hite and the SRC for acting to ensure principals and school communities can take the steps needed to best serve their students. What’s more, this announcement comes on the heels of District principals agreeing to reform the seniority provisions in their contract as well.
This is a necessary step, but not a silver bullet. Putting responsibility for managing talent more squarely in the hands of principals creates big opportunities for school improvement. Now it's up to principals, with support from the District, to fulfill that responsibility fairly, strategically and proactively.
Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS)
While Superintendent Hite promotes this action as necessary to insure that every student gets “the right teacher with the right skill-sets to support quality learning”, the District has presented no evidence that universal site selection and elimination of seniority will lead to this outcome. Roughly half the positions in the District are already filled by means of site selection with mixed results.
PCAPS believes that improved professional development and competitive compensation that could attract and retain good teachers is a course that would improve teaching and learning. But the District instead calls for cutting compensation and attacking due process rights that teachers across the state, including those in the highest performing schools, have had for decades.
Moreover, as a labor-community coalition we are concerned with the District’s rejection of collective bargaining and their embracing privatization as the road forward. The current announcement includes a decision to privatize substitute services through competitive bidding. Philadelphia’s working families see the shrinking number of union jobs and the continual downward spiral of wages as a major issue and so do we.
The following two statements were issued Monday, when the District announced its action.
School Reform Commission, chairman
The School Reform Commission supports the Superintendent’s efforts to implement the Action Plan, and we will use every measure at our disposal to ensure our students have a great education in the best schools possible. The Action Plan and these needed reforms merit additional financial support from the State and City governments.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, president
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. The members of the PFT are partners in public education, not indentured servants. Today's action by the school district belittles every PFT member, and signals an unwillingness to reach a fair contract with the city's educators.
The PFT has successfully negotiated every contract since 2001 with the SRC under Act 46, and sees no reason not to do the same this year. But the district has been unwilling to withdraw any of their contract proposals, many of which undermine educators, jeopardize school safety and remove programs and services from our children. The School District and SRC chairman Bill Green have made it clear that they view Philadelphia's teachers and school staff as entitled and overpaid pawns, rather than critical members of the school community.
We have instructed our attorneys to oppose strongly this bogus effort by the SRC to avoid its legal obligation to bargain in good faith over all of these issues. The educators, parents and students of Philadelphia want schools that are adequately funded, and provide children with the
tools, material and conditions they need for a high quality education.
The PFT believes that collaboration, not litigation, is the best way to provide our children the education they deserve.
This post has been updated.