After 21 months of fruitless labor talks, the School District made a bold move Monday to unilaterally restructure teachers’ health benefits and send $44 million in savings directly back to schools.
At a special meeting that was barely publicized until hours before its 9:30 a.m. start, with no public testimony before acting, the School Reform Commission unanimously voted to cancel the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers in order to rework its health-care provisions. The District also filed a legal action in Commonwealth Court to establish its right to rewrite the contract based on special powers granted to the SRC.
“This is our attempt to bring teacher contributions to health care in line with other local and national norms in a way that will allow us to remain able to serve students and avoid layoffs,” said Superintendent William Hite in an interview before the meeting. “If we don’t find additional savings, our children will continue to face inadequate resources. And there’s nothing else to cut from our central office or school budgets.”
On his wish list of what he hopes principals will restore, Hite included sufficient counseling services, enough personnel so teachers can meet and plan, more aides to monitor cafeterias and recess, teachers to offer more advanced classes in world languages, additional reading specialists for young children who have fallen behind, clerical help, and materials and supplies.