Top Pa. court to decide if Philly SRC has power to cancel teachers contract

 Members of the School Reform Commission voted to cancel its contract with Philadelphia district teachers last year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide whether that move was a legal one. (NewsWorks file photo)

Members of the School Reform Commission voted to cancel its contract with Philadelphia district teachers last year. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide whether that move was a legal one. (NewsWorks file photo)

A battle between the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is heading toward  the state’s highest court.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide if the SRC has the authority to unilaterally cancel the teachers’ contract.

In October, the SRC voted to cancel the teachers contract and impose health care concessions on teachers in order to achieve $200 million in savings.

The SRC argued it had that power based on the 2001 law that took local school control away from the city.

In January, the state Commonwealth Court rejected that argument.

Now, in response to an appeal by the SRC and the district, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear the case.

No date has yet been set.

“When the SRC acted last fall to redirect approximately $200 million to our schools over the following four years, it was exercising the precise function for which it was created: achieving financial stability for the district in a crisis of underfunding that has prevented our schools from providing basic resources and services to students,” wrote district spokesman Fernando Gallard in a statement. “In the interim, the urgency of directing additional resources to classrooms has only increased.”

The district and the teachers union have been at odds over the contract for almost two years. The union’s previous agreement expired on Aug. 31, 2013.

“It really is better to negotiate an agreement as opposed to having one imposed upon you,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan in a telephone interview. “The Commonwealth Court issued a ruling after hearing the case, and I look forward to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sustaining that ruling.”

Jordan said negotiators haven’t met in months.

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