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The Philadelphia Inquirer Speaks to Union Lawyer Ralph Teti about Teacher Layoffs

June 12, 2011

District takes teacher-layoff issue to Pa. Supreme Court (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
By: Kristen A. Graham

The Philadelphia School District is seeking approval from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to go forward with 1,500 teacher layoffs, a move that could have wide-ranging consequences.

More than 3,000 employees - 1,523 of them teachers - were issued layoff notices Monday, but the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers won a temporary restraining order from a Philadelphia court halting just the teacher dismissals.

District officials are invoking Act 46, the state law that created the School Reform Commission, and asking for the high court to declare "extraordinary jurisdiction."

They say there's no time to wait for a decision from Common Pleas Court, then a grievance arbitration and possibly appeals.

Layoffs would take effect July 1.

It's not yet clear what legal documents filed late last week mean for the Common Pleas Court hearing, scheduled for Tuesday, a lawyer for the teachers' union said Saturday.

At the heart of the legal wrangling are 195 teachers at Promise Academies - chronically underperforming district schools that operate with extra resources and longer school days and years. The SRC passed a resolution last month exempting those teachers from layoffs.

"The teachers at the Promise Academies tend to be younger than the average district teacher, and accordingly have less seniority. Were it not for the exemption authorized by the SRC, many of these young men and women would have been laid off, with the result that the Promise Academies' teaching staffs would have been decimated," School District attorneys wrote in court papers.

But the union says that is a violation of its contract, and "the district is just spending a lot of money in what we lawyers call forum shopping," union attorney Ralph Teti said Saturday. "This is a contract that was voluntarily signed."

He said that the Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction over the matter, and that intervention would set a dangerous precedent.

"I don't think that the people who wrote Act 46 intended for every labor dispute to go directly to the Supreme Court," Teti said. "If they did, I bet the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would be very surprised and annoyed to hear that."

In court papers, the union said that "although the parties negotiated over the establishment of the Renaissance Schools/Promise Academies, the district never proposed, and the parties never agreed, to exempt teachers at those schools from the contractual layoff and recall procedures."

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