Philadelphia School District Battling Seniority Issue

 

Members of  the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)  have requested that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ignore the petition it received from the school district and the School Reform Commission (SRC) requesting the elimination of seniority and some teachers’ work rules.  The union challenged the petition on the grounds that these were bargaining privileges, according to an article by Solomon Leach of Philly.com.

The union also argued that these issues were not under the jurisdiction of the court but are disputes which should be handled by “standard labor grievance process.

“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,” PFT president Jerry Jordan said in a statement.

The district has stated that the court has the right to make changes to such issues as seniority, minimum staffing requirements, preparation time and subcontracting, adding that these changes are important to improving educational outcomes.  They say that the SRC has the power to revise school procedures.  Pay and benefits are not being addressed in the petition sent to the State Supreme Court and are still in limbo.  Some state legislators support the PFT.

Kevin McCrory writes in Newsworks that Philadelphia School District Superintendent, William Hite is firmly behind eliminating seniority as the only criteria for being rehired.

“We must implement these changes now to be ready for the coming school year,” Hite said. “In one instance, a high school chemistry teacher who was voted ‘best teacher’ by students lost his job simply because he lacked seniority. We cannot continue to allow that to occur.”

McCrory interviewed two Philadelphia School District teachers who had a different take on the seniority debate.  They had observed that poorly performing teachers were counseled out of the teaching profession , not rehired because of the time they had been at the school.  Instead of focusing on the seniority issue, they said that they would like to see teachers treated with respect and dignity.

They suggest that accountability on the part of teachers is the authentic measurement of a teacher’s ability.  If the systems are offering training, counseling, and an environment that supplies teachers with the necessary resources, teachers will more often succeed.  For those who cannot succeed, dismissal is the only choice.

According to these two teachers, Andrew Saltz and Karla Johnson, a teacher in the district who was ineffective in the classroom was told so directly by administration and faculty members.  No covering up; no hiding; her colleagues and those in charge let her know that she was not doing her job.

“It doesn’t matter who it is,” said Johnson, “when we have someone try to come into our environment and harm our children, we don’t like it, we don’t enjoy it, we don’t want it, and we do everything we can to not have that happen to our kids.”