Philadelphia Schools Cancel Teachers Union Contract

   < < Go Back
from The Wall Street Journal,

School Reform Commission Says Move Saves District $54 Million This Year.

In a surprise move Monday, the commission that governs the financially troubled Philadelphia public-school system canceled the teachers union contract and decided educators must contribute to their health insurance for the first time to free up money for classrooms.

“We can’t say to students, ‘We would like to give you millions of dollars to improve schools, but the PFT won’t let its members pay for some of its health insurance,’” School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green said, referring to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Governments nationwide have been seeking to rein in costs of health care and other benefits, but there appears to be little precedent for the five-member commission’s unanimous move, education experts said.

“The unusual part is they unilaterally took away some of the key benefits from the union contract,” said Kenneth Wong, chairman of the Brown University education department.

It isn’t clear if the commission even has the legal authority to void the contract under the state’s school takeover law. Its leaders quickly filed a lawsuit, joined by the state Department of Education, asking a judge to rule they have such power.

The current teachers contract expired in August 2013, but staffers had been working under its terms during negotiations. Mr. Green said Monday’s move, coming after what he called 21 months of fruitless talks with the union, would save the district $54 million this year. He said $30 million of that would be quickly pumped into schools beset by large class sizes, reductions in arts and Advanced Placement classes, and cuts to guidance counselors.

Some of the remaining $24 million would be used to ensure the district doesn’t face a deficit next year, he said. The SRC—which consists of three members appointed by the governor and two by the mayor—said the district will still operate under most of the other contract conditions, despite the cancellation.

The decision wasn’t widely publicized and occurred shortly after local union officials were notified of an emergency morning meeting, drawing a scathing reaction from labor.

More From The Wall Street Journal (subscription required):