PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers claims Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction to clarify the law as it applies to the city’s school system, and is applying maximum political pressure press on with failed contract negotiations.
Philadelphia school officials recently asked the Supreme Court confirm that the district’s right, under the state’s school takeover law, to change work rules without the union’s permission.
The PFT filed a legal brief in response this week arguing that the high court doesn’t have jurisdiction in the case, and that there’s only one way to resolve the disagreement, The Notebook reports.
“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,’” according to the news site.
The issues at the heart of the debate are union seniority rules that inhibit district officials from retaining the best teachers during layoffs, and from utilizing educators based on student needs and education priorities.
The district’s state-appointed School Reform Commission is vested with special powers to override certain union contract provisions, and the decision to ask the Supreme Court to confirm those powers is a clear sign the SRC intends to use them, if necessary.
The PFT has steadfastly rejected all contract concessions, so it appears it might be necessary.
But 22 union-loyal state lawmakers and a league of 14 unions all filed separate legal briefs in support of the PFT, because they recognize that if the SRC successfully strips provisions from the PFT contract it will set a strong legal precedent.
The PFT and Big Labor backers believe collective bargaining is the best way to resolve the problems in Philadelphia’s schools, despite the obvious fact that collective bargaining is what created the problems to begin with.
The PFT’s contract with the district is rife with unnecessary spending – from payments for unused sick days to free health insurance and legal services for employees – that have nothing to do with educating students. District officials are looking for roughly $130 million in concessions from the PFT to keep the district’s financial ship afloat, but the PFT has resisted entirely.
“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, according to The Notebook.
If the Supreme Court confirms the SRC’s powers, and the Commission takes action to ditch the seniority system for a more performance-based model, then the SRC’s actions will do quite a bit to improve learning conditions.
Removing union seniority from the equation will ensure Philly students will have the best available teachers at the head of the classroom, not necessarily the most experienced ones.
That means they will get the best possible instruction. Isn’t that the way it should be?