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Pa. Supreme Court declines to rule on District's move to impose work rules

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 26, 2014 06:09 PM

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to rule on whether the School Reform Commission has the absolute right to unilaterally impose work rules on the teachers' union in the absence of a contract.

The opinion offered no explanation for the decision. Chief Justice Ron Castille wrote a lengthy dissent, concluding that due to the District's dire financial position, the court was "duty-bound to engage in the review requested here." He was joined in the dissent by Justice Max Baer.

The non-decision favors the union, because it will make it easier for the union to file grievances and legal challenges to District actions that violate the terms of the expired contract. 

The SRC had asked the Supreme Court to definitively declare that certain noneconomic issues, including the use of seniority in teacher assignment and transfer, were not mandatory subjects of collective bargaining with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. And it asked the justices to do so under "exclusive jurisdiction" -- a way of skipping over the usual process of starting in a lower court and moving up through appeals.

The District has already taken actions in violation of the expired PFT contract, including assigning and laying off teachers without regard to seniority and raising class size. Negotiations with the union have been going on for more than a year without reaching agreement. The last contract expired in August.

In a joint statement, Superintendent William Hite and SRC Chairman William Green said that they were "disappointed" with the decision.

“The District's financial challenges reinforce the need for basic changes – essential changes – around school staffing, including layoff and recall," the statement said.

PFT president Jerry Jordan said he was "extremely pleased."

"We are pleased because it affirms the right of our members to collectively bargain to achieve an agreement," Jordan said. 

The District had asked the court to affirm that certain things did not have to be bargained, including the use of seniority in teacher placement and transfers, control of daily preparation periods, class-size limits, and requirements around whether there must be counselors and nurses in every school. 

The law under which the state took over governance of the District -- the Distressed School District Law, now part the school code -- places limits on what must be bargained, exempting many work rules and practices that had traditionally been negotiated.

It says that the only mandatory subjects of bargaining are wages, hours, and working conditions.

The takeover law also provided for the District to directly petition to the Supreme Court as a way to more quickly resolve disputes.

In his dissent, Castille explained that "a declaration to that effect by this Court would guide the ongoing collective bargaining process, including informing the parties what issues the SRC could act upon unilaterally while collective bargaining was proceeding."

The dispute over work rules -- along with the District's demands for teachers to take a pay cut -- has been one of the major sticking points in the stalled negotiations, 

Hite and Green said in their statement that they "continue to believe that the Distressed School District Law authorizes these reforms and that we have a responsibility to our students to remove learning obstructions." They also emphasized that the decision is not on the merits of their petition on the extent of the SRC's authority.

Still, it will "lengthen the time for resolving important legal issues and obtaining needed clarity for planning and implementation purposes." 

Despite the court's action, Hite and Green said that the District "will not back away from our efforts to achieve important reforms and to use our authority under the Distressed School District Law for this purpose."

“The District's financial challenges reinforce the need for basic changes – essential changes – around school staffing, including layoff and recall. If the School District cannot make vital decisions about the quality of education for our students, we will face even greater challenges in allocating resources and providing our students with the excellent education they deserve.”

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Comments (28)

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 6:46 pm
I read the last paragraph several times. Two contradictory things are said. In one sentence it says "financial challenges" reinforce the need for essential changes around school staffing. In the next sentence they suggest the quality of school staffing is the issue. Fund the schools and stop siphoning tax money to charters.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on June 26, 2014 8:02 pm
I think what it means is that if Hite gets more money from the state, city or the out of the mouths of the teacher's children he will use the money to fire teachers quicker and replace them with charters and district schools staffed by the TFA. He must also lower the pay scale so the charter teachers do not go to their Wall Street masters and say things like "may have a living wage". The PFT wage scale is very bad for the Charter business. Which is why all PFT members need to write their state representatives and tell them that under no circumstance can they give the SRC a lot of money for a reform plan whose details are undisclosed. They can give us a little but if the State ever met the SRC wish list most Public school teachers will be history.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 6:20 pm
"The District has already taken actions in violation of the expired PFT contract, including assigning and laying off teachers without regard to seniority and raising class size." And not paying step increases. They have never accounted for how much they have saved by doing this.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 7:23 pm
we have the same thought on the issue Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 6:36 pm
Is seniority being reversed or not....
Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on June 26, 2014 7:18 pm
This just means that the Supreme Court is declining to hear the case. It doesn't decide anything. It does, however, pave the way for the PFT grievances/suits to continue and that is a box on the ears to the District, which thought it would have its actions affirmed by the Court. Meanwhile, though. the SDP will continue doing what it wants to do as arbitration and grievances slog through the system.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 4:48 pm
Grievances slog through the system because the PFT officials allow it by not demanding a hearing according the time frames stated in the contract. By default if the SDP fails to schedule a initial hearing ( in front of one of their own officers which the employee usually loses since the District pays this representative to just endorse what the District wants and puts it in writing-total waste of time) the PFT can move it along to arbitration without waiting also stated in CBA. The PFT waits it out hoping member will get worn out, dies, or just gives up and drops the complaint or the union conveniently loses it. In essence, the PFT leaders are just as responsible for permitting this as the SDP. The PFT has probably thousands of unresolved grievances that they just hope go away. That is why we are here today with this mess . No consequences when the SDP violated the contract You think the FOP, Firefighters, Septa union, etc. sit out all those issues like the PFT does? Absolutely not. Especially, the FOP union. Maybe Jordan can take advise from their union head how to actual pursue a grievance for a resolution and back his members for a change. Email and ask Jerry how soon will the thousands of grievances be executed to get some of these issues resolved. Otherwise, the SDP will continue to trample on our rights , contract , seniority, layoffs, transfers, prep time and on and on and on -like they are doing now. jjordan@pft.org
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 9:10 pm
This so called "distress" is a manufactured monetary deficit caused by a Governor looking to support big business by wiping out the middle class. They are a short sighted bunch of idiots that Are only interested in the big profits of today. They are aware, and ignoring future consequences of their actions because they take the money and run. Who will be left to clean up their mess? The teachers.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 4:46 pm
WHAT teachers?! Experienced teachers are heading for the exits en masse. The enrollment in colleges of Education has declined by TWO-THIRDS in a single decade! Thanks to a widespread and well-funded (Republican AND Democrat) media assault on the teaching profession, the field now holds all the appeal of kamikaze piloting. Teachers are mocked and insulted on television and in film - openly assaulted in their classrooms - and vilified by a press in league with private entrepreneurs who'd like nothing more than to slash salaries and benefits and rewrite the working rules of those few who are left in order to enrich themselves. When I told my neighbor's college-age daughter that I was a teacher, she laughed right in my face and said, "I'd rather waitress. I can make twice the money for half the hassle." There is NO "pipeline" of young teachers to depend upon any more. The profession en toto is dying. And dying faster than I ever imagined possible. Instructors - especially those at the secondary level and those in Math, Science, Special Ed and Foreign Languages - will become increasingly scarce until they virtually disappear. Wealthier districts will vie for the reminder; inner-city districts like Philly will subsist on subs and TFA's - as long as they are able to get them. But Philadelphia School District is doomed - the stench of a painful, lingering death is all over it - and I truly believe that it is beyond saving. Philly ... Detroit ... Los Angeles ... Camden ... they're all paeons to manufactured crises in the sacred name of "social engineering." After 29 years of teaching in this District, I am feeling thoroughly raped and thoroughly disgusted with myself for not having fled when common sense told me to. Well, I am close to the end (thank God) and apres moi, le deluge. My final thought: Will the last certified teacher left standing in this bombed out Dresden of a school district please turn out the lights? And a happy new school year to all.
Submitted by Lisa Haver on June 26, 2014 9:31 pm
“The District's financial challenges reinforce the need for basic changes – essential changes – around school staffing, including layoff and recall," the statement said." When I asked Green at a meeting recently how much money the district expected to save by changing work rules, he admitted that imposing work rules would not put any money into the budget. He said that he supported imposing work rules rather than negotiating a contract because that is what is necessary for Dr. Hite's plan to work.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on June 26, 2014 10:52 pm
Which brings us to Poogie's point. How much should we be fighting to get funding from the state when executing Hite's plan means getting rid of teachers (aka "transformation)? This is not unlike Blaine teachers being invited to apply for a grant which is then used against them.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2014 11:39 pm
How is Greene so sure Hite's plan will work? What proof did Hite provide? Funny there are plenty of teachers that know what works
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2014 11:43 pm
How is Greene so sure Hite's plan will work? What proof did Hite provide? Funny there are plenty of teachers that know what works
Submitted by gayle Robinson (not verified) on June 27, 2014 1:54 am
This is why we must get the Vote out around the state. It is pass time for Corbett, the Src and Mr.hite. They are decimating and destroying Our district.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 7:05 am
There are many things in this contract the hinder student progress. Everytime there is an idea in our school that is good, makes sense and does benefit our members, there is somehow something in the contract that hinders the moving forward.
Submitted by 1st grade teacher (not verified) on June 27, 2014 8:08 am
Examples, please.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 12:13 pm
such as?
Submitted by 1st grade teacher (not verified) on June 27, 2014 6:48 pm
You say there are several things in the contract that hinder progress. Like what?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 12:25 pm
Oops, the Supreme Court won't bless the SRC's continued attempt to break the unions. The issue is basic labor law 101. That is why the Supreme Court won't decide on anything. The SRC needs to bargain in good faith and stop their oppression of the teachers' union.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 4:48 pm
The PFT "leaders", (if you want to call them that) need to step up their game too vigorously. Challenge the SDP in lower courts until they take you seriously. Now you are a laughing stock , punching bag to the officers at the SDP and Gov. Corbett
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 1:39 pm
Hey everyone ... if the SRC goes, Mr. Hite MUST go too. He doesn't have an independent mind to decide on what we really need to solve Phila-education problems. I think he is a bully. He gives his political colleagues raises and 6-digit salaries while he is asking a teachers in their 7th year to make minimum pay of 43k If teachers are doing 2 or 3 jobs to support their families, how will they get the time for after-hour duties like designing technology-rich, creative lessons plus essential time needed for grading essays and communicating with parents?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 1:27 pm
"The non-decision favors the union, because it will make it easier for the union to file grievances and legal challenges to District actions that violate the terms of the expired contract." Excellent. Now it's time to secure a contract like the New York city teachers did: " New York City teachers have approved a nine-year labor contract, their union announced on Tuesday, a deal that raises pay by 18 percent.. The agreement, which includes billions of dollars in back pay, is likely to set the standard for several other municipal unions that, like the teachers’ union, were left without contracts in the final years of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration." Just insert the word "Philadelphia" where it says New York, and Nutter where it says Bloomberg. Doesn't that sound sweet? The billions of dollars in back pay will include our step raises. Yes. I can go for that.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 3:37 pm
where can we get a copy of the NYC contract? I saw in the NY Times that they had a new one, but what are the details? Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 3:21 pm
Keep dreaming. They can't pay you what they don't have.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 4:59 pm
They have it alright. They are waiting for us to walk away from it. They are hoping we will cower and fold like the principals did. But we will pry it from their sticky, greasy fingers when we stand in solidarity brothers and sisters!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 4:15 pm
The difference is we in Phila. have a union busting ,not for the average working person mayor named NUTTER .In contrast, NYC has a mayor who helps and is for the average working person named Mayor deBlasio. Nutter is awful to the working class and even worse towards unions and has not helped the District at all . But and this is a big but is Anthony Williams who wants to be next Phila. mayor is the worst in everything . Nutter has done nothing for schools in Phila. students, teachers, parents or staff. Good riddance, Nutter, Corbett, Hite, and Green. Get real jobs.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 27, 2014 11:29 pm
All we do is sit on current contract until Wolf & Clarke get in office then get a better deal with some back pay. Very simple solution. Get rid of SRC. Legislature would love to get rid of that obligation towards Philly.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 29, 2014 5:53 pm
"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has declined to rule on whether the School Reform Commission has the absolute right to unilaterally impose work rules on the teachers' union in the absence of a contract." In the words of Rush: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. Awesome decision, Pennsylvania Supreme Court! Keep the momentum going, PFT.

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