In Philadelphia, frustrated commissioners charged with reform of the city's financially troubled school district have taken a drastic step that is sure to inflame labor proponents: ending the district's teachers union contract, the Wall Street Journal reports
The drastic move comes after the union, following 21 months of negotiations that failed to produce a compromise, declined to approve new provisions that would require teachers to pay portions of their healthcare costs. By forcing teachers to contribute, the district would save $54 million this year, the Journal noted.
Whether it is within the five-member School Reform Commission's power to act unilaterally to void the contract remains unclear. But the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers had been without a contract since 2013, working under their previous contract with the district. And on Monday, the union filed a lawsuit along with the state Department of Education, asking for a judge to rule whether the appointed commission's actions are legal, the Journal noted.
The commission's chairman, Bill Green, defended the move. “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.' "
Under the new proposal, Philly teachers union members, who number about 15,000, would pay anywhere from $27 to $71 monthly for an individual insurance plan while a family plan would cost them about $77 monthly up to about $200 monthly, the Journal noted.
But PFT President Jerry Jordan described the actions as "union busting" directed at helping the state's Republican governor, Tom Corbett, win re-election in November, the Journal noted.
Corbett is trailing his opponent, Democrat Tom Wolf, by 17 points, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday, philly.com reported
The governor has held control over the urban school district since 2001 after a federal civil rights lawsuit, which alleged suburban districts were better funded than inner-city programs, prompted state takeover, Salon noted
, describing Corbett's surprise move as the "nuclear option."
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the Philadelphia teachers union's national parent group, issued a blistering response to the governor's actions, calling the move a "war on teachers."
"Three weeks before the gubernatorial election, this surprise early-morning School Reform Commission meeting, lawsuit and notification to employees imposing a contract and compensation cuts can only be characterized as Gov. Corbett's well-planned Hail Mary ambush," Weingarten said
in a statement.
"Corbett's School Reform Commission has amped up a war on teachers and support staff, who have been the glue holding Philadelphia's schools together. Clearly and recklessly, the SRC is trying to provoke a strike — since there have been no real negotiations since SRC Chair Bill Green was appointed by the governor," she continued. "Green, in fact, has shown by his actions — spending his time and resources hiring lawyers and going to court — that the commission would rather attempt to impose a contract than work with teachers to figure out what is best for Philadelphia's kids."
She added: "Pennsylvanians will not be fooled: They know that Gov. Corbett has robbed Philadelphia's schools of desperately needed funding. They know that teachers and support staff are doing everything they can to fill in the gaps. And they know we need new leadership that will reinstate a fair funding formula. Philadelphia's children deserve better."
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