HARRISBURG – With much at stake, lawyers for the School Reform Commission on Wednesday asked a panel of five Commonwealth Court judges to affirm their power to cancel the Philadelphia School District teachers’ contract.
The law that created the SRC acknowledged that in times of distress, the commission must have at its disposal special powers, argued commission attorney Mark Aronchick.
“The polestar is the children, not the protection of some collective bargaining interest that protects the interest of teachers,” Aronchick told the judges.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers lawyer Ralph Teti said the SRC lacks the authority to abrogate its contract.
“I think they overstepped their boundaries greatly,” Teti said. “Their view of it is, if we have a contract on Monday, we can cancel it on Tuesday.”
The SRC wants to make teachers begin paying a portion of their health-care costs, a move it said would save $54 million annually. Those savings would be sent directly to cash-strapped schools, officials said. Teachers would pay from $72 to $700 a month depending on their salary, the plan they choose, and their family status.
The district had hoped to make changes to 11,200 PFT members’ health care effective Dec. 15, but a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court injunction halted those changes for now.
On Wednesday, the Commonwealth Court judges peppered both sides with questions around their central arguments, and about their interpretation of Act 46, the state law that created the SRC.
Several judges, including President Judge Dan Pelligrini, noted that the SRC had negotiated four contracts with the union since the commission was created in 2001. If the SRC can simply impose terms, Pelligrini asked, what good are the contracts?
“Why would anybody enter into any negotiations with you?” Pelligrini said, adding that he thought the SRC was relegating the union to “a meet-and-discuss unit rather than a bargaining unit.”
William Hite Jr took the same nonsense to the Philadelphia School District from Prince George’s County. In the above scenario, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (P.F.T) must tendentiously make known that, Unilateral contract cancelations are illegal everywhere in the United States. While further contributions to member benefits package may be reasonable, they must be part and parcel of collective bargaining along with raises, step increases and most importantly, working conditions. As is told, the district’s fiscal instability was not of the teachers’ making but of the School Reform Commission (S.R.C)’s as a forensic audit of district financials would surely establish. Teachers and other staff members sacrificed much more over the years and have thus done their part. It is not incumbent upon P.F.T. to be held hostage either by Ackerman or Hite’s mistakes or anyone else’s.
Funding priorities have often missed the point while S.R.C. behavior missed the form. Law suits and further short-term cuts will solve nothing. A fairly negotiated resolution will so rooting out waste and abuse in Bill Hite’s morbidly top-heavy central administration is essential.
Philadelphia once had great schools. They can be so again once Corbett, Hite, Nutter and Green wise up and treat people fairly by negotiating in good faith. The folks have legitimate grievances and deserve better.