With little fanfare, Superintendent William Hite imposed new work rules on district teachers today (Wednesday, Oct. 16), ending the practice of filling vacancies through seniority only.

The decision had an immediate effect.  Gov. Corbett’s Budget Secretary, citing “a lot of movement in the area of reform” announced the state would release $45 million it had allocated for the district, but had yet to release.

The $45 million will allow the district to rehire about 400 of the teachers, counselors and other support staff laid off this summer.

Details of the actions Hite took were scant, but they will have an immediate effect as the district undertakes its “leveling’ process, an annual fall ritual which sees some schools lose teachers and others gain them due to changing enrollment estimates.

Under the old rules, dictated by the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, principals who would have to downsize staff or increase staff would have to do it strictly on the basis of seniority.  Under Hite’s directive, they do not have to use seniority as the sole determining factor but can consider other needs. At a news conference, he used the phrase “compelling reasons,” but did not define what those reasons might be.

The “leveling” occurs because some schools end up with fewer students than originally expected, while others end up with more.

Hite and the School Reform Commission have argued that they have the right to impose new work rules without approval of the PFT because of powers granted to them under Act 46, the law that allowed the state to takeover operations of the district. The PFT’s old contract with the district expired August 31. He never uttered the words “Act 46″ not “impose” at his news conference, citing instead a different part of the school code.  The effect was the same, however.

PFT President Jerry Jordan was not immediately available for comment, but the union is sure to oppose the new rules, possibly in the courts. Assignment by seniority is one of the pillars of the union’s old contract.

Although state Budget Secretary Charles Zogby cited “improvements” none have come at the bargaining table.  Little progress has been made in the talks.  The union has made no concessions –at least publicly.

If Hite had not acted this week, before the “leveling” transfer process began, he would have missed an opportunity to use the leverage granted the district under Act 46.  See this background story on the options Hite and the union faced.

The release of the $45 million came as a surprise.  It was not expected the Corbett administration would part with the money until substantial progress was made in the contract talks.  Progress has been scant.  The governor may have been motivated by the drum-beat of demands from public school advocates that he release the money and also by the death by asthma attack in late September  of a 12-year girl at Bryant Elementary School.  Advocates blamed the lack of a school nurse as a contributing factor to the death of Laporshia Massey.  District officials said the school followed the proper procedures in handling the incident, but it received international attention.

Ironically, no nurses will be hired back once the district gets the $45 million.  Hite said the district was at the same complement of nurses as it was during the last school year. Instead, the money will be used to rehire assistant principals, some teachers, school support personnel and about 80 guidance counselors who were laid off this summer.

The rhythm of the contract talks has changed little since the contract expired August 31.  The two sides continue to talk. No progress is reported. The district continues to impose new conditions that eat away at long established work rules.  The union protests vociferously, but takes no definitive action, such as file a court suit to challenge the district’s right to impose.

Still the fundamentals remain the same.  Hite and the district are trying to extract $133 million in wage and fringe benefit givebacks from unionized workers and the unions continue to resist.

 

This is an update of an earlier story. It includes additional information from a news conference held by Superintendent William Hite.