Philadelphia School Budget Crisis: District Asking to Suspend Teacher Seniority Rule

Just two days away from Philadelphia's schools funding deadline, the district is preparing for ways to hire back laid off staff, should the money come

With two days until funding judgment day in the School District of Philadelphia, officials are asking a state-controlled board to remove a rule that forces them to rehire staff based on seniority. This request comes as the district awaits $50 million in additional cash to open school on-time.

The School Reform Commission, a state board that controls the Philadelphia school district, is holding a special hearing at 3 p.m. Thursday to consider suspending part of the district code requiring staff let go during a layoff, be rehired based on seniority.

Schools spokesman Fernando Gallard says the district would like to hire back employees based on the skills that they had at a particular school and to ensure that employees are hired back at the facility where they used to work.

The district's petition comes as officials negotiate a new labor contract with its teachers. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan blasted repealing the seniority rule.

"The district is clearly not negotiating in good faith and we will be looking at and exercising all of our legal options," he said.

Jordan added that implementing the change would violate the union's collective bargaining agreement.


As the School District of Philadelphia prepares to staff up the organization should emergency money come through, the moves may be in vain.

District Superintendent Dr. William Hite has demanded at least $50 million in additional funding be given to the district by city and state officials by Friday so he can re-hire about 1,000 laid off staff.


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If the money doesn't come by the deadline, Dr. Hite said he may not open schools as planned on September 9.

Dr. Hite has said he cannot safely operate the district's 218 schools without restoring some of the nearly 4,000 administrators, teachers and support staff -- like guidance counselors, secretaries and nurses -- let go in June.

Philadelphia City Council has announced a plan to raise the money for the district through the purchase and resale of unused real estate. Officials have promised to provide the district with a guarantee of the cash by Friday, but with two days to go, nothing is set in stone.

State lawmakers have also admonished Governor Tom Corbett for not yet providing $45 million in promised aid to Philadelphia schools.

The Corbett administration has said it will not provide the money without the teacher's union agreeing to more than $130 million in contract concessions. A cutback union officials say they can't make.


The state could also face a potential lawsuit if Philadelphia schools don't open on time. The grounds for a lawsuit stem from the requirements for special needs students. Not only are they entitled to an education plan but they also must learn in regular classrooms with children who don't have special needs.

"Federal law says that every student with a disability is entitled to have an individualized education plan that is drawn up by the district," said Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. "They are required to provide education in the most integrated setting possible, the least restricted environment."

Churchill helped win a successful class action suit of a similar kind in the Chester Upland District last year. He says he finds Philadelphia's money troubles disturbing.

"It is beyond my comprehension about how the adults cannot get down to the business of producing that money," he said.


With no official funding deal announced, students, teachers and education activists continued to protest the funding cuts Wednesday.

A group of some 100 people resumed a fast for safe schools on the steps of the district's headquarters along North Broad Street.

"They have to give sooner or later. So we're going to fight until they do. I'm not going to stand here and believe I'm fighting a dead horse," said fasting parent Earlene Bly.

At another protest, organized by the teacher's union, dozens of parents, teachers and students rallied outside Harding Middle School in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.

There, a sign stood highlighting the names of staff let go, as colleagues spoke about the work they had done for the school's students.

NBC10's Rosemary Connors contributed to this report

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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