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Philadelphia District Appeals Ruling That It Can't Cancel Teachers' Union Contract

The Philadelphia School District has appealed a Commonwealth Court ruling last month that said that the district cannot unilaterally cancel the teachers' union contact and impose new terms.

The appeal, filed Monday, argues that the School Reform Commission should be able to find savings in labor contracts and use them in the classrooms during times of financial distress.  

In a statement, the district said it believes the Commonwealth Court "misinterpreted and  misapplied" the law when it ruled last month that there was no basis in the state's legislative history on collective bargaining or in the statutes for the SRC's Oct. 6 decision to unilaterally cancel the teachers' union contract. Judge Patricia A. McCullough issued a permanent injunction against the district to stop it from doing so.

"We remain convinced that the SRC had clear statutory authority when it acted last fall to redirect a projected $200 million in savings to our schools over the next four years," the district said in a statement Monday announcing the filing of the appeal. "The SRC was exercising the precise function for which it was created: achieving financial stability for the district in a crisis of underfunding that has prevented our schools from providing basic resources and services to students.

"Moreover, despite four years of budget shortfalls that have cost the district one-third of its workforce and the closure of 31 schools, the needed economies sought by the SRC are largely limited to bringing the healthcare package for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' union in line with what other district, city, and state employees receive. That change is unfortunate but, given the decimation of district schools, fruitless contract negotiations, and the fact that most unionized and non-unionized employees in Philadelphia and across the country now pay into their health plans, it is reasonable."

In the hastily called October meeting, the district announced that it was canceling the contract, requiring members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers to pay toward their health benefits, and making some other changes. The district estimated at the time that the new terms would result in nearly $50 million in savings a year and more than $198 million over the next four years. The union contract expired in 2013, and the two sides had met in more than 21 bargaining sessions. Although they had not reached an agreement, no impasse had been declared. 

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which objected to the terms, appealed the commission's vote. 

Jerry Jordan, the president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said in a statement Monday that he was "extremely disappointed" with the district's decision to spend money on an appeal and not in the classroom.

"They have already spent nearly $1 million in an attempt to break the PFT contract while our schoolchildren continue to go without paper, books, and other classroom supplies and resources," Jordan said in a statement.  "Though the PFT will fight this litigation as we have from the beginning, we find it outrageous that the SRC would rather engage us in court than at the bargaining table. It's truly a shame that the SRC views contract negotiations as an obstacle rather than an opportunity to work together on real solutions to the challenges facing our schools."

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