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PFT asks state Supreme Court to reject District's petition

By Paul Socolar on Apr 3, 2014 02:32 PM

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has asked the state's highest court to reject the School District's recent petition for confirmation of its authority to unilaterally abrogate teacher seniority rights and other teacher work rules.

On Thursday, the PFT filed its response to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the court doesn't have jurisdiction over the work rule changes and that the issues under dispute should be subject to collective bargaining as they have been in the past. The union's attorneys argue that the "grievance and arbitration dispute resolution mechanism" established by state labor laws "is the only method for resolving these issues."

Citing the state takeover law known as Act 46, the School District has claimed the right not to negotiate with the teachers' union over "non-mandatory" bargaining issues -- issues apart from wages, hours, and working conditions.

But the PFT's legal response emphasizes that the SRC is asking for "relief from the agreements it negotiated over the last 13 years with the Federation while possessing all of the authority conferred on it by Act 46." It goes on to say that in contract talks, the union and the District are still negotiating over all the disputed issues covered in the District petition and "are not at an impasse on any issue."

In a statement, PFT president Jerry Jordan said, “This action by the SRC and its new chairman, Bill Green, is just the latest attempt by the Commission — an unelected and unaccountable body — to strip teachers and other school employees of their rights, but even more important, the SRC’s actions do nothing to improve the learning conditions for our City’s children."

The School District declined to comment; a spokesperson said the District does not comment on active litigation.

Backing today's PFT response, 22 state lawmakers and a league of 14 unions, led by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and representing over one million members, filed separate amicus briefs asking the court to dismiss the District's petition.

"This Court cannot and should not become the permanent arbiter of ongoing disputes between any union ... and the SRC," stated the brief from Sen. Lawrence Farnese and other lawmakers. Farnese is a member of the state's judiciary committee.

"This petition is but the latest effort in a disturbing trend emanating from the City and School District ... under the guise of financial hardship, to sidestep the collective bargaining process, avoid the grievance and arbitration procedure, and attempt to co-opt the power of this Court to improve its bargaining position," reads the statement from the labor unions.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes said he agrees with the Distict’s central premise that it’s important to get the right teachers in the right classrooms.

But he said the District should rescind its petition to the Court and return to the table in “good faith.”

“These are issues that need to be addressed at the bargaining table. ... We can not escape the reality that the School District of Philadelphia is on fire. That house is on fire down there because of budget cuts, and we have to have an environment where people are making a conscious decision to work together to try to put that fire out.”

Since the majority-state-appointed School Reform Commission took over the District in 2001, the District has negotiated two new contract agreements and two contract extensions with the teachers’ union.

The PFT’s current contract expired in August. Since, little progress has been reported.


Additional reporting by Kevin McCorry of NewsWorks.

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Comments (63)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 8:50 pm
That is so weak!!! I expected much more from the PFT. Is that really the best response they can come up with.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 8:20 pm
what would you add?
Submitted by Taxpayer (not verified) on April 3, 2014 8:24 pm
Why? Why on earth would you expect something that wasn't weak from the PFT? Helen Gym has more balls than Jerry Jordan. The PFT should have called for the disbanding of the SRC when Ackerman was in control. Jordan and his cronies have let things get worse and worse for PFT members while using rhetoric for excuses. It's sickening.
Submitted by Teachin' (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:44 am
Thje PFT's weakness in the face of negotiations with Ackerman set the groundwork for this fiasco - including the dismantling of our district through renaissance school conversion. Jordan pushed that contract through against the wishes of the membership and we're all continuing to pay for it. Where was the legal action regarding the unequal treatment of Philadelphia during the PSSAs (in the suburbs, teachers aren't even made to cover their walls and can monitor their own classrooms)? The current incarnation of the PFT is simply not fulfilling its mission to take care of us.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 12:41 pm
They did call for it.... but perhaps you were not at the meeting of the PFT when that happened. Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 9:29 pm
and you would add, what?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 8:14 pm
Wait the PFT actually knows they have a grievance mechanism ? I've been saying that for years they should be using that process instead of filing the paperwork and not executing them. The SDP doesn't adhere to the dispute resolution process because the PFT doesn't force them to according to CBA and state labor laws. Now they want to utilize that procedure? Next time,just ask me and save the members money by hiring lawyers to tell you what I said for years to Jordan and PFT officials.
Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on April 3, 2014 8:03 pm
Give us your name and number for future reference. Thank you!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 9:47 pm
Yes, by all means. Please provide your name, email and/or phone number and I will be happy to ask you how much better you would be in getting results.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 10:11 pm
You only get results when you follow through or execute grievances not filing out paperwork out and then nothing happens because the union won't pursue them Give me a paid job at the union- I will get them cleared up because I will follow the CBA-not pacify the District. respectfully, I think some of you need to re-read the CBA there are two (2) steps before arbitration that the PFT will not even pursue.The reply you get from PFT is the SDP won't give us a hearing .Um, ok follow the next step, since the District failed to give a decision on the following steps you may automatically proceed to the next step- which is a neutral party rendering a decision.Of course, I realize the arbitrators set the date but normally it is within about 3-6 months -not years and years. After all the baby steps the PFT does in this process you won't get that far though.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 9:49 pm
read up on the how the process works before shooting your mouth off and making accusations! Once the paperwork is filed, it is out of BOTH the PFT's and District's hands as to when an arbitrator will be appointed to hear the case. All the Union CAN do is file the paperwork and wait. . .
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 9:20 pm
That is not all the union can do. It is all that the UNION LEADERSHIP seems willing to do. The union (US!) can vote to strike, walk-out, sick-out, etc. How many members want to go this route? We don't know, because there hasn't been a VOTE. Just a building rep asked to "take the temperature" of the staff and then NOTHING. "Wait and see" means "give up" because by the time this is heard (if it is ever ruled on), it will be too late. Staffing decisions for next year will start being made in just a couple of weeks (site selection). Rostering decisions (including principal-assigned duties on prep time) are being made NOW in some schools.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 10:53 pm
Jerry (poster above), let me inform you how it works since you sign the CBA but don't follow the contract. When you file a grievance , the step process starts with informal decisions on both sides.They don't work nowadays since the SDP isn't reasonable.Then you are due a due process hearing with a SDP hearing officer.The PFT does not push this -just tells members the SDP won't schedule them. The CBA then states it goes to arbitration (by default) if they refuse a hearing, (after a meeting by the PFT grievance committee whoever they are, aside from Harris) after that it goes to arbitration but the PFT usually doesn't want to do any leg work so they refuse even valid grievances and let them sit idle for years or inform you it won't be going to arbitration-failing to be our exclusive representatives. You need to read the process.I not only read it, I encountered it firsthand and can tell you all about it and how it works with the SDP and PFT.
Submitted by Daniel Fitzsimmons (not verified) on April 4, 2014 5:20 am
Look, it's people on here that keep on bashing the PFT and it's leadership that are going to kill our union. All you do is divide us more. In this time we all need to be united and yet all you are looking for is to break us apart and have us fight amongst each other, all while staying anonymous. If you have such a great plan, first, give us your name, and then give us your plan that is going to save us.
Submitted by Teachin' (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:48 am
We need to be united and that is what leadership is for. PFT leadership is not leading, it's manipulating its membership and launching weak statements of protest. We must certainly stick together during a strike - but there's a lot the PFT does not live up to and it's important to demand that it does.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 7:36 am
Plan A would be new, assertive, composed of working educators (who know the daily challenges in the schools nowadays-not union officials that sat at 1816 Chestnut, PFT headquarters- under a relaxed atmosphere for about 30+ years and are out of touch ) in PFT leadership roles who have the membership's best interest,feedback,are elected by members directly , and accountable to their members. Additionally, stronger tactics to fight back against a by any means necessary aggressor, aka, SDP. Plan B would be the same as Plan A.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 8:16 am
We are not lemmings following leaders unquestioningly. We need democracy in the union to be united and strong. People must have a robust debate about what is to be done. A good leadership would not be afraid of this and encourage it. The leadership is not the PFT, the members are the union!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:34 am
So, where will the back pay for all the steps that were denied?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 3, 2014 10:48 pm
Did any of you haters bother to read the supporting documents from AFL-CIO and the Philadelphia delegation that were filed in PFT support today? Until then…dam your spew. Jerry and PFT have obviously been doing more than you know.
Submitted by Speller (not verified) on April 3, 2014 11:38 pm
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:03 am
no "speller" I meant dam…as in stop the unending flow.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 12:16 am
Yes, Jerry I read all the legal documents that were filed by the legal team, on PFT's behalf ,to the lawsuit potentially being heard by PA Supreme Court-and your point is?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 12:21 am
The statement I noticed that was a bit hypocritical is below. In a statement, PFT president Jerry Jordan said, “This action by the SRC and its new chairman, Bill Green, is just the latest attempt by the Commission — an unelected and unaccountable body". The SDP certainly are, but I was thinking the same about the PFT/AFT.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 11:51 pm
Karen Lewis is obviously busy in Chicago but, otherwise, who would you like to see in lead here besides Jerry?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 7:21 am
and let's not forget that for all the huffing and biffing that Lewis and the Chicago Teachers Union did, including striking, they were unable to prevent massive layoffs, school closures and schools turned over to private management. Miss Lewis is to be admired, but she has had no better luck or success in stopping the privatization of Chicago's public school system than Jerry has here in Philadelphia. Unions alone can only do so much, this is not going to stop until the people throw the bums out of office who are constructing and implementing this destruction of the Public Education System
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 10:56 am
Very tough to find people who cannot be bought these days and that is the great weapon Eli Broad and Co. use against the public. There is, however, a couple of things they can't buy…passion and honed craft. I have worked in number of places in past 20 years, public and private schools, K thru GED. THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE PHILLY! It takes true love of people and teaching to make anything of a day in classrooms here. If you don;t have the drive (and the chops!) you might as well take stock in Advil because you will need an unending supply of it. Thats why their fresh faced TFA recruits run for the hills asap and it's also the leverage the ones who will stay to teach in the charters have to collectively bargain (or profit share!) with in future. NOBODY is going to do that tough tough job for peanuts, now or ever.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 4, 2014 2:01 am
I am encouraged that several unions have joined in this fight for justice and all forms of worker rights. ALL working people need to be very afraid when unions are being demolished and worker rights are being tossed aside by corporations. Look at McPoison and WalMart as exhibits A and B. If the charter lie folks can do it here, no teachers are safe in PA.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 10:36 am
I beg to differ. The sanitation workers have families that need their services. The construction workers families use the buildings they build. The hospital workers families go to the hospital. But the PFT members don't send their kids to the School District schools. Add to that the degradation and insults the teachers extend to parents and it's clear why you don't have much of a support base. Union solidarity doesn't trump family needs.
Submitted by annon (not verified) on April 4, 2014 1:40 pm
Some of us send out children to Philly schools - not enough - but some.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 2:34 pm
They do if their child gets into a special admission school. When the only option is a neighborhood school, it's on to a suburban, a charter, or a private school. Nobody should fault you for wanting better for your children. The problem is your hypocrisy. What's sauce for the goose....
Submitted by annon (not verified) on April 6, 2014 4:03 am
How many KIPP and Mastery teachers / administrators send their children to their schools???
Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon... (not verified) on April 6, 2014 10:16 am
Scott Gordon--the CEO of Mastery--sends his kids to a Friends school. The Friends school philosophy is the exact opposite of mastery's test-prep, no excuses environment.
Submitted by Joe Hill (not verified) on April 6, 2014 1:20 pm
Just like Paul Vallas telling parents how safe Philly public schools were thanks to his Zero Tolerance nonsense. All the while he's sending his own kids to private school.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 6:34 am
You will notice reasonable people stop posting when the haters take one wants to be associated with this type of person. They do not sound like educators and I wonder if they really are even currently employed. I have been giving $5 a paycheck for 15 years to support the union's actions in politics. What have you been doing except spewing anger and hatred?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 7, 2014 6:42 pm
Giving $10 a paycheck to support politicians who won't screw the people to pay off their special interest supporters.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 4, 2014 8:49 am
Thank you for Paul for citing the briefs so we have easy access. Funny, yesterday morning I checked the docket and the filings were not yet listed. This is going to be very interesting.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 9:25 am
Paul thanks for the article. I read the PFT Attorneys response--I thought it was excellent!! They have an excellent case against the SRC. For those that don't think so please read it in its entirety.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 4, 2014 9:28 am
I just read through the PFT's brief. I think that, Deborah Willig, Ralph Teti, and Bruce Bielski did an excellent job stating the PFT's side of the argument. I realize this situation is emotionally and politically charged and everyone is stressed out about the situation. It is a sad and upsetting situation. I hope our Supreme Court can rise above the political nature of this action and issue a thoughtful Opinion which recognizes that this adversarial act of the district is counterproductive to establishing a wholesome "profession of teaching" which is absolutely necessary for a well functioning public school system. The notion of keeping "the status quo ante" until a new contract is bargained in good faith, is embedded in the American democratic process.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on April 4, 2014 9:54 am
I took the time to read the pleadings and I feel much better. I really thought our answer was much better written and reasoned than the SRC's filing. In its Petition the SRC is basically saying; "Please court give us a decision that says we can do whatever we want but we are not telling either you or the PFT what that is". Court's almost never issue blank checks like that. They have no idea what the SRC may do and Courts are loath to bless something not spelled in the filings. Plus the SRC is asking the Court to say that what they did in the Fall was OK before the arbitration process they agreed to in the contract is finished. Courts rarely do stuff like that. In legal terms they are asking the Pa Supreme Court to buy a Pig in a Poke. And the Court never does that kind of deal. If there is an arbitration procedure in place Courts usually never interrupt it. They may overturn it but they never stop the unfinished process since who knows who is going to win? The SRC obviously feels it might loose the contract grievances procedure and that may be the impetus for this filing. I think we have the better case and from reading the pleadings the better lawyers. We got our monies worth on this pleading. And again I am generally a pessimist in these matters
Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on April 6, 2014 11:48 am
Doesn't matter. PFT was denied.
Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon... (not verified) on April 6, 2014 11:44 am
The Supreme Court has NOT ruled yet. The PA. Dept of Ed is not the Supreme Court--the Dept of Ed are backing the SDP--that is no surprise. Martha Woodall should have been clearer in her article.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2014 12:13 pm
I wasn't crazy about the timing either. The state filed the papers on Thursday. Why wasn't this published on Friday or Saturday. It was posted Saturday evening so it would be in the Sunday print edition. Did the state withhold the information so it would be in the Sunday papers. If they did, it sure looks like psychological warfare.
Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on April 6, 2014 3:25 pm
Wow. I am embarrassed. Poor reading on my part! Thank you so much for clarifying. Hope has returned again. Thank you, Anon, anon, we must go anon...
Submitted by Anon, anon, we must go anon... (not verified) on April 6, 2014 5:36 pm
Many people made the same mistake--it was a little misleading, and everyone is very anxious!
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 4, 2014 11:22 am
I agree with you after reading about 70% of the argument. My only fear is that the political environment is now so bizarre that right is wrong and wrong, right. In the best of all worlds, this is a slam dunk for the PFT and all unions and always has been.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on April 5, 2014 9:58 pm
But every time you ask the PFT they say OH we cannot litigate because of the present make-up of the Court. We are afraid they might be mean. They said this last Friday at the Building rep meeting. BALDERDASH PIFFFF!!! I SAY!!!!!! Today (and last Friday) is probably the best time we are ever going to have to hear a suit on this subject. The present make of the court is Three Republicans Saylor, Stevens & Eakin and Three Democrats Baer, Todd and McCafferty. Stevens is a temporary Judge so you could argue the Dems are in the ascendancy. Plus, Saylor is a completely reasonable lawyer might even say a fair man by Pa Standards. Yet why does the PFT still lie??????
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 11:34 pm
You are absolutely correct.If the Supreme Court of PA. hears this case, in the near future, the climate of the court is on our side more than the SDP. The PFT has been saying that for awhile- they fear the climate of the PA Supreme Court would not be favorable the PFT. I think they will be especially, since today the make up is three Republicans Saylor, Stevens & Eakin and three Democrats Baer, Todd and McCafferty. Castile was forced to retire on March 16,2014. They are one member short now. Saylor is pretty reasonable , was a union in his younger days when working for A & P stores ,and has a daughter that is a teacher. Those odds sound better for the union than the pit bulls at SDP. Stop the wuss games PFT officials meet the challenge head on and quit the old, tired, ineffective tactics of trying to scare your members for not wanting to face a winnable challenge. Now is the best time to have a case heard by PA Supreme Court- maybe ACT 46,can be heard too on the merits it is discriminatory , unconstitutional. Irreparable harm has been done throwing that (Act 46) in your faces every contract, especially the impending contract,already suspending seniority, with a host of other concerns.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 6, 2014 12:19 am
Joe, Your comment actually shows some positive feelings about the PFT's case, which gives me some optimism. You're a barometer of sorts. If the PFT's case was doomed, you would have said something like "There's a snowball's chance in hell that this will succeed. Get the pitchforks out and go on strike." Just sayin'.... EGS
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 6, 2014 8:27 am
EGS--You didn't have to post the same comment twice but thank you and yes, you're still in my will. When are you taking me to lunch ????
Submitted by Headstart Teacher (not verified) on April 4, 2014 2:21 pm
Please correct me if I'm mistaken, but didn't Green say that even if this is not approved by the state supreme court all he has to do (and will do) to get around the ruling is to continue to turn more and more schools over to charters..... Seems like he has the game rigged to win either way.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 4, 2014 3:35 pm
Headstart Teacher---I am sure I read his saying that too or something very close to it. Green is a bully with the commensurate big mouth but he would do that in a heartbeat if he could. That's why I said a week or so ago that Act 46 needs to be challenged by a strike. The PFT will have nothing to lose if as you suggest, the game is rigged both ways and with Mutter, Green and Hite, all things are possible especially with One Term Tom pulling their strings. I have an especially hard line on Gleason above all though after he giddily wanted to deprive the kids in the real schools of resources and IS STILL IN A POSITION OF POWER IN THE CHARTER LIE BRIGADE. That alone tells us all we need to know as he should have disqualified himself from any educational position for taking that stance. What kind of person not only agrees to intentionally hurt children but also is gleeful about it?? If it were his children being abused, would he be so cavalier about agreeing to it?? Maybe he would.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 4, 2014 3:10 pm
and the charter school teachers will also want, and deserve, collective bargaining…you watch.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on April 4, 2014 3:31 pm
Of course, you are totally right. Even though, they fire folks who speak more than they should, the discontent, abuse and corruption will eventually energize teachers etc to fight back as is their moral right. You are so right, comrade !!
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 5, 2014 1:35 pm
I wonder if PFT is challenging the District's attempts to circumvent seniority on equal protection grounds since the SDP is the only district in the state which is exempted from the state's seniority laws.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 2:52 pm
I have complete confidence that EVERYTHING and every OPTION is being, and has been, considered. Just because the Leadership doesn't broadcast, blog, tweet and Facebook it's strategy to the enemy, doesn't mean things are not happening. Only a fool lets the other side know their game plan. Something some people on this blog site seem incapable of understanding, they would broadcast the game plan and then act stunned when the other side is ready for it and counters it.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 5, 2014 7:39 pm
your degree of faith is impressive. i'll bet you still leave crackers and milk out for santa's reindeer too.
Submitted by anon (not verified) on April 5, 2014 7:56 pm
sorry. a little edgy with the trigger finger.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 7:42 pm
EGS--They are not exempt or at least that's the issue to be resolved. Clearly, this is discrimination at every level just as the PSSA crap was too with Phila. Teachers disallowed form proctoring their own kids' exams. As ALWAYS, if we allow it, it will not only continue but get worse. Phila. is the lowest hanging fruit for the reformers because of Nutter and The PFT Leadership being considered impotent. Actually, Nutter is considered a sell out, a shill for big money who will do anything to secure himself a spot on The National Stage after he destroys Philly as much as possible. What a guy, indeed !!!!!!!!!!!! Keep cashing those checks indeed, Lisa (Morrie Peters) Exactly Right !!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 5, 2014 7:20 pm
Sorry again--Joe K. Have no memory.
Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on April 6, 2014 11:42 am
The PDE denied the PFT and supports the SRC. It's in today's paper. Now what? Are people ready to strike? Or will they wait until we are told to work for nothing? This is 1960 redux.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 6, 2014 7:19 pm
Jimilia the PDE is not a court of law. They just sided with the SDP. No surprise there. After all, Corbett picked the head people there. What is disturbing how these people that had top jobs in unions ,like the PDE Sec. Worked for the PSEA ( part of NEA) in their Headquarters a few years back and that Wash., DC turncoat who was the leader of the DC district a couple years ago,now works for that slippery ,sketchy Michele Rhee. How fast they forget what it is like and just are opportunist. Working for the other side to make more money . The PA Supreme Court didn't rule anything yet on this case.
Submitted by Jimila (not verified) on April 7, 2014 4:26 pm
Thank you. Someone else pointed that out to me as well. I was wrong and appreciate the correction. We're hoping that the Court sides with us.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on April 7, 2014 8:14 am
NEXT STEP IS FOR THE COURT TO GRANT THE SRC PETITION RELAX!!!!! Remember what is before the court right now is a petition to file a compliant. It is only asking to file something. We are saying what they are asking for is so absurd and must be stopped now. We loose that argument. If we won it would a Stupor Mundi; we are not wining it at this stage. If I petitioned a court for permission to file a compliant asking it to the declare me the King of Holland and that the Moon is made of Gouda Cheese. I win that petition 99% of the time. Why because it is always easier to let a fool hang himself then do it to him. So Courts almost always grant Petitions to file a Compliant. I cannot think of an instance in which they would not. If the SRC files a Compliant we keep every single defense we raised in the brief in a pleading called New Matter. The fact finding then proceeds WHEN THE SRC IS GRANTED PERMISSION TO FILE A COMPLIANT. YOU SHOULD IGNORE IT: IT IS MEANINGLESS. WE LOST NOTHING. IGNORE ALL THE WHINING AND CRYING YOU WILL SEE ON THE STUPID TEACHER BLOGS. THE CASE IS MERELY STARTING.

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