Arbitrator faults Philly district for ignoring seniority when rehiring school counselors

 Teachers and other personnel from the Philadelphia School District protest  massive cuts in 2013. An arbitrator has ruled the district was wrong to ignore seniority when rehiring guidance counselors it laid off at that time. (AP file photo)

Teachers and other personnel from the Philadelphia School District protest massive cuts in 2013. An arbitrator has ruled the district was wrong to ignore seniority when rehiring guidance counselors it laid off at that time. (AP file photo)

An independent arbitrator has ruled against the Philadelphia School District for not taking seniority into account when rehiring laid-off school counselors in 2013.

Facing a large budget shortfall in the summer of 2013, the school district furloughed all guidance counselors.

As school began, and additional funding came through, many were hired back, but without regard for seniority.

Following a union complaint, arbitrator Ralph Colflesh has now ruled against that action – saying that the district must provide back pay for those more senior counselors bypassed by the district.

The district also must follow a provision in the union contract that requires all schools to have at least one full-time counselor, Colflesh directed.

“There are just certain things that I think we should all agree tom that all children deserve to have. And having a full time counselor in every school is one of those things,” said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which also represents counselors.

The district plans to appeal the decision.

It believes it can unilaterally override seniority provisions in the teachers contract based on the special powers it was given in the state legislation that created the School Reform Commission.

The district also said it simply can’t afford to staff all schools with a counselor without a much larger investment from the city and the state.

“We are disappointed and respectfully disagree with the decision and will be appealing to the Court of Common Pleas,” said district spokesman Fernando Gallard. “We will seek an immediate stay, to minimize the disruptive effect the remedy would have on students and schools.”

Fifty-five of the district’s schools do not have a full-time counselor.

An additional $3.4 million would be needed to hire the 29 more counselors needed to give each school a full-timer, the district said.

Jordan said the district could meet that figure by readjusting its priorities.

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