When the Philadelphia School Reform Commission voted to unilaterally cancel the district teachers union contract last month, it did so in way designed to attract the least immediate pushback.
Education advocates believe the SRC’s action violated the state’s government transparency laws.
The SRC scheduled its vote for a Monday morning, when teachers were in class. The only public advertisements were a back-page notice in the Sunday Inquirer and a legal notice on Philly.com. Reporters were alerted only about an hour before the event. The SRC members heard public testimony, but only after they voted to kill the contract.
“We do believe that a judge will say, ‘When you don’t allow comment before you pass a resolution, you’ve violated the Sunshine Act. When you don’t deliberate on this type of resolution, you’re violating the Sunshine Act,'” said Lisa Haver, a retired teacher and co-founder of the advocacy group Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools.
Haver’s group filed a writ of summons in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas this week. The move preserves the group’s right to file suit if the SRC doesn’t offer a further explanation of its action.
“If somebody doesn’t say, ‘Whoa, you can’t do this,’ what’s to stop the SRC from doing this whenever they want?” Haver said. “They want to give a public school over to a charter … ‘Hurry up, call a meeting, take a vote.'”
A district spokesman said district officials would have no comment on the filing.
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers also believes the SRC action Oct. 6 broke the law. It contends the SRC doesn’t have the right to terminate the contract. Appealing to the state-takeover legislation that went into affect in 2001, the SRC believes it does.
Both sides await a ruling from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.
The SRC said it needed to unilaterally break the contract in order to impose health care concessions on the union – a move the district says will allow it to pump $44 million into classrooms this year.
If the court rules in the district’s favor, teachers will begin seeing deductions in their pay on Dec. 15. If the court rules in the union’s favor, the district will be forced into a resource scramble, as it’s already started spending some of the anticipated health-care savings.