By Maura Pennington | PA Independent
PHILADELPHIA — When it comes to staffing teachers in Pennsylvania public schools, “last in, first out” is a strict rule.
But Philadelphia is using the power of its School Reform Commission to waive the law that makes seniority the basis for hiring, firing and reassigning educators.
Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite on Monday announced the new staffing guidelines for the 2014-2015 school year as part of his Action Plan 2.0. In order to make students the priority and give principals flexibility, the school district says it will no longer use seniority as the primary factor in placing teachers.
“In one instance, a high school chemistry teacher who was voted ‘best teacher’ by students lost his job simply because he lacked seniority. We cannot continue to allow that to occur,” Hite said.
The SRC has the ability to suspend provisions of the public school code, and the district has petitioned the state Supreme Court to validate its authority to make the change without agreement from teachers’ unions, such as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Negotiations with the PFT have stalled over the issue of salary cuts since the contract between the district and union expired in August.
“A better teachers’ contract is not a simple set of management-friendly ‘work rules.’ It is a manual that provides a vision for how our schools should function so that we can properly educate our schoolchildren,” said PFT president Jerry Jordan.
Jordan told the Philadelphia Inquirer the PFT will challenge the SRC’s court filing.
Though there have been recent attempts in the General Assembly to change laws related to teacher seniority rules, nothing so far has been passed to affect statewide policy.
Education reform groups support this step in Philadelphia in the meantime.
“As the District works to implement its ambitious Action Plan 2.0, it must create the conditions for great schools to thrive by making personnel decisions based on the needs of students, not based on outdated policies. Dr. Hite is finally taking advantage of the power bestowed on the School District of Philadelphia during the creation of the School Reform Commission in 2001,” said Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN.
The SRC is prepared to put its full weight behind this decision.
“The School Reform Commission supports the superintendent’s efforts to implement the action plan, and we will use every measure at our disposal to ensure our students have a great education in the best schools possible,” said SRC Chairman Bill Green.
Contact Maura Pennington at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @whatsthefracas.