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Commission Suspends Philadelphia Teacher-Staffing, -Pay Rules

As it moves forward with a plan to borrow $50 million to open on time this year, the governing body of the Philadelphia school system has approved plans by Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., to make major changes to staffing rules for teachers and other personnel.

Among them, the district's School Reform Commission will suspend rules that use seniority to govern which employees are rehired, and it will also give the district the flexibility to ignore rules on granting pay for advanced credentials and length of service. Those rules apply to employees "with whom the school district has not reached an acceptable collective bargaining agreement," code of sorts for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, with whom negotiations are ongoing.

The district says the changes are needed to assure that rehired personnel are matched to school needs and are appropriately flexible given the district's dire financial woes—a combination of declining enrollment, rising pension obligations, and major cuts in state aid. Earlier this year, the city cut more than 5,000 positions, including about 650 teachers.

The teachers' union blasted the move, intimating that it might sue to prevent the changes from taking place, NBC reported. "The district is clearly not negotiating in good faith and we will be looking at and exercising all of our legal options," PFT President Jerry Jordan said, according to the news channel.

Seniority remains something of a holy grail for unions, particularly in American Federation of Teachers affiliates like the PFT that have faced declines in enrollment and layoffs.

Meanwhile, the SRC members aren't elected: They are appointed by either the governor or the mayor of Philadelphia. The commission's recent move has reignited debates about whether the commission's power is too authoritarian.

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