In Philly: Teachers sign contract

PHILADELPHIA — After six weeks of extensions, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) approved a four-year contract with the school district Oct. 14.

The union’s chief negotiator Jerry Jordan called the contract a compromise that is “good for our members.” PFT President Ted Kirsch called the agreement “satisfactory.”

The length of the school day will remain the same, not increased as the School Reform Commision (SRC) had insisted. The cost of health care benefits will increase by 9 percent, but those employees hired after November 2001 will pay even more for their health care, with less options.

The SRC had insisted that principals be given the power to hire, fire and transfer teachers, but this ended in a compromise. Transfers based on seniority will fill half of classroom vacancies and half will be school principals will fill the other half using a complicated system.

Salary increases will amount to 3 percent in the first two years and 1 percent in the second two. Salaries will still not equal those in the nearby suburban districts.

The state took over the Philadelphia School District in 2001 and the five-member School Reform Commission has managed it.

The SRC has the power to impose a contract on its employees, who are forbidden to strike, but it did not follow through on threats to do this. Six weeks before the last contract expired, the SRC dismissed its own negotiating team and sent in high-powered lawyers with 419 new proposals and the SRC blasted the union with radio ads and threats.

The author can be reached at phillyrose1@earthlink.net.