What They’re Saying About the School Reform Commission

Lots of anger, some support for decision to unilaterally end contract with teachers.

Protestors demonstrate against the school district's sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia. The decision Monday by the School Reform Commission follows nearly two years of stalled negotiations between the district and union.

Protestors demonstrate against the school district’s sudden decision to cancel teachers and others contract and force them to pay health care premiums, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia. The decision Monday by the School Reform Commission follows nearly two years of stalled negotiations between the district and union.

A day after the School Reform Commission abruptly and unilaterally ended its contract with the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, there is still plenty being said — a lot of anger, but some support, for the action. An overview:

The Philadelphia Public School Notebook surveys the reaction:

After the sparsely attended morning meeting, many in the local education community attacked the SRC’s decision. There was an afternoon protest held outside Gov. Corbett’s Philadelphia office. But there were also statements of support for the action to reduce members’ health benefits, including from the Corbett administration in Harrisburg, the Philadelphia School Partnership, and even former Gov. Edward Rendell.

At an afternoon press conference, PFT president Jerry Jordan also expressed his union’s outrage at the District’s decision to impose contract terms rather than negotiate. … He promised a court battle and pointed to the union’s success in previous legal action over contract terms being imposed.

KYW explains the competing legal theories:

Saying the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has not shared in the sacrifices that other school district employees have made — including blue-collar workers and principals — School Reform Commission chair Bill Green said the SRC is exercising powers given to it by state law to modify the teachers’ contract.

Jordan says union lawyers will fight it in Commonwealth Court, arguing the contract terms should remain status quo.

“When there is not a successor agreement, everything in the contract is frozen.”

The Inky suggests the move has the support of the Philadelphia establishment, however:

Mayor Nutter, in Harrisburg for a rally for a permanent school funding formula, said he supported the SRC’s move.

“In the 21st century, it becomes increasingly untenable that folks aren’t paying something for their health-care coverage and for a variety of other benefits,” Nutter said. “At the moment, those are the only other additional dollars that are available to the school district.”

Former Gov. Ed Rendell said he was “on the side of the teachers, but the union has to be realistic. Something had to be done. The education of our kids depends on significant savings coming from the contract.”

But there was national criticism from Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of 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. 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. 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.

Elsewhere, the Notebook also looks at the economic bottom line for teachers:

The District will require all PFT members to contribute to the cost of their benefits. Those earning less than $25,000 will pay 5 percent of the plan’s premiums. Those earning between $25,000 and $55,000 will pay 10 percent, and those earning over $55,000 will pay 13 percent.

The District says biweekly monthly payments for PFT members will range from $27 to $71 for single coverage and $77 to $200 per month for family coverage.

The Daily News‘ liberal firebreather Will Bunch is angry that the SRC attempted to hide its moves from the public:

There’s an old saying that if you want to do something but you’d be embarrassed to tell your mom or dad about it, then…don’t do it. How bad are your actions when you’re too embarrassed to tell 1.5 million Philadelphians about it? I’d say, pretty bad — and that makes one wonder, how much of this is really about “the kids” and how much of this is old-fashioned politics.

While Philly.com’s designated Republican, John Featherman, urges the teachers to strike:

Technically, the members of the PFT are not allowed to strike. As Kristen A. Graham reports, the state forbids teachers from walking out. Doing so, they’d run the risk of having their teaching licenses revoked.

But what’s the School District going to do? Fire them all?

They should strike because heavy-handed, poorly thought-out, one-way edicts don’t belong in Philadelphia – or anywhere else.

And they shouldn’t come back until the School Reform Commission rescinds its canceling of the teachers’ contract.

Actually, the Reagan-worshipping GOP remembers the Gipper firing all the air traffic controllers rather fondly. Nevermind what effect that had on a service for a few years after that; it’s not difficult to imagine Gov. Corbett proving his conservative bona fides and letting them all go.

More to come.