Philly principals reject proposed contract by ‘decisive margin’

Philadelphia School District Headquarters at 440 North Broad Street (NewsWorks file photo)

Philadelphia School District Headquarters at 440 North Broad Street (NewsWorks file photo)

Following two delayed votes, the union representing Philadelphia public school principals and administrators rejected a tentative contract with the school district Wednesday.

The refusal came by a “decisive margin,” according to Robert McGrogan, president of Teamsters Local 502 of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators (CASA).

A CASA statement released after the Wednesday vote indicated principals are unhappy with working conditions inside city schools and feel burdened by an excess of district staff.

“We have witnessed a swell of offices in central administration that has the authority to place additional demands on schools,” the statement read. “In fact, it should be the other way around. We don’t need more quasi-administrators telling us what to do and how to do it. We need more people in our schools helping us to get the work done.”

The union’s statement did not mention the financial terms of the deal, and McGrogan said dollars and cents weren’t the central concern

“It’s not all about the money,” he said.

The tentative four-year contract contained a three-percent, across-the-board bonus for union members as well as an extended, 11-month work year. It also held health care contributions steady while maintaining current levels of coverage.

Superintendent William Hite said in a statement he was “deeply disappointed by the outcome of the vote.”

“We believed this agreement was one that offered CASA members terms they would support,” said Hite. “Hours of open and productive talks produced a proposed agreement that recognized the sacrifice CASA members made during some very challenging times and was consistent with what we have offered other unions.”

CASA agreed to hefty givebacks in 2014 during one of the district’s most acute budget crises. That deal saved the district roughly $20 million.

“The concessions the administrators took were extraordinary and it was accepted because it was supposed to make the conditions in the Philadelphia schools better,” McGrogan said. “We have not realized that.”

McGrogan referred specifically to a “horrific teacher shortage” that, he says, has stretched many principals too far.

The union’s statement also noted that “[t]his proposal had some rather soft language about the District making its best effort to improve these conditions but we have become skeptical as a unit and need to have more of a commitment in that regard.”

McGrogan could not refer specifically to the passage or passages that the union’s members considered too “soft.” It should be noted, however, that in the tentative agreement there is a clause that reads as follows:

“The School District acknowledges that in order to perform their assignments in a professional manner, Administrators require a work area conducive to such assignment, accordingly, agrees to use its best efforts, within budgetary and physical limits to provide such an environment and provide the resources to allow teachers administrators to perform their primary function proficiently.”

Signs of discord first emerged earlier this month when CASA postponed an initial vote on the contract. It later reneged on a second set of dates, putting off the final vote until Wednesday.

The “no” vote by Philly administrators breaks a modest streak of positive labor news coming out of the school district. In addition to its tentative deal with CASA, the district recently inked a new four-year contract with the union representing blue-collar workers. 

Philadelphia teachers, meanwhile, have been without a contract for nearly three years.

CASA’s current contract expires August 31. McGrogan said agreeing to a new contract with the district was “doable” by that date.

In its statement, the school district said it was “evaluating its options” and that “there are no further talks between The School District and CASA scheduled at this time.”

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