Commonwealth Court rules in teachers’ favor

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It turns out the School Reform Commission can’t cancel teacher’s contracts after all.

The state’s Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of the teachers, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan confirmed in a statement Thursday.

“The PA Commonwealth Court today handed down a decision that affirms what we have been saying for months: the School Reform Commission’s move last October to unilaterally cancel the PFT contract was an unjust and blatant violation,” Jordan said in the statement.

On Oct. 6 the SRC, the board that governs the school district of Philadelphia, announced it was canceling the teacher’s contracts to make changes to the teacher’s healthcare packages.

Citing the 2001 state takeover agreement, the board claimed it had the power to strike down the contract and impose its own terms.

The SRC allowed teachers to stay, but cut their pay and required they contribute more to their health benefits. Officials said the changes would save the district more than $50 million a year.

In its decision, the Commonwealth Court Judges ruled that the SRC did not have the power to cancel the contracts and impose its own terms. State legislation would be needed to grant the SRC that power, and no legislation to this point has done so, according to court documents.

Bill Green, chair of the School Reform Commission, said in a statement that the SRC was “obviously disappointed with the decision.”

“We continue to believe that the SRC had clear statutory authority for its action and was exercising one of the core functions for which it was created: seeking to achieve financial stability for the District amid a crisis of underfunding that prevents our schools from providing basic resources and services to students,” Green said.

Mayor Michael Nutter, in a statement, asked the union and the SRC to return to the bargaining table “immediately and do the work needed to reach agreement on a contract that provides for the changes needed to educate better our children and that also respects the teachers in their work.”

Green said: “We are reviewing the court ruling and will shortly determine next steps that best serve Philadelphia schools and school children.”

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