Philadelphia School Reform Commission Cancels Teacher Contract

In a unanimous vote, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission has voted to cancel its teachers’ contracts.

The move happened during an early morning meeting, with no advance warning given to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  PFT president Jerry Jordan called the act “cowardly” and is planning to fight the decision.

“I am taking nothing off the table,” a clearly angry Jordan said at an afternoon news conference. Job actions could be possible, once he determines what members want to do. “We are not indentured servants.”

While there are no plans to cut the wages of the 15,000 teachers and other PFT members, the commission does intend to dismantle the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which is currently controlled by the union.  The commission would like to take over control of administering benefits.

This means that PFT members will now have to pay either 10 or 13% of their medical plan cost depending on their salaries.  Currently, they receive these benefits at no cost.  Starting December 15, staff members will begin to pay between $21 and $70 each month.  Doing so will save the district $54 million this year and as much as $70 million per year after that.

The move would also affect retirement plans.  The current system had opted to subsidize retired workers’ prescription, dental and vision benefits.  The new plan will not continue that provision.

SRC plans to use that savings for district classroom needs, allowing principals to decide how to use the cash.

“Today’s action by the SRC will effectively close the funding gap and provide the district with the ability to hire new teachers, counselors and nurses, and secure educational resources that will benefit the students of Philadelphia,”Governor Corbett said in a statement.

Superintendent William Hite Jr. found it hard to support the decision, but said that the move “allows [the district] to save millions of dollars that we can return to schools very quickly.”

The district has faced some tough financial times lately.  The budget is currently balanced, but until recently it had held an $81 million deficit.  Earlier this year there was some discussion concerning whether schools would be able to open on time or not.  Even with this decision made, the district could still be facing an $8 million deficit this year, or as much as a $70 million deficit next year.

It is expected that the PFT will act quickly moving through the court system in an attempt to get an injunction to stop the SRC.  The PFT does not believe the SRC has the power to impose the terms, and the SRC is not so sure themselves.

An amendment to the takeover law that would have given the SRC the absolute right to impose terms on its unions did not make it through in 2012 after the Philadelphia delegation discovered what was happening.