Today, public-school parents and education reform groups today called on the School Reform Commission (SRC) to use its existing authority to implement policies that put student needs ahead of employee seniority when it comes to hiring, assigning and compensating teachers.
Parents and advocates alike urged the SRC to end the negotiation stalemate by using its managerial prerogative to implement staffing reforms now. In doing so, they believe the SRC also will go a long way toward convincing the state to release the $45 million in onetime funding that has been reserved for Philadelphia schools upon evidence of “fiscal stability, educational improvement and operational control.”
Their message is clear: The key to great schools is great teachers, but the District’s current seniority-based policies often get in the way of ensuring that every school has effective teachers who are the right fit for the school’s unique culture and student population.
“Moving away from seniority as the basis for personnel decisions is the right thing to do for our children,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership and the parent of a District high school student. “Governor Corbett has made it clear that the release of the $45 million is dependent on the implementation of significant reforms. If the SRC acts to implement these reforms, it will be a major step toward securing the release of that money.”
Organizations represented included Parent Power, the Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now (PennCAN), and the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP).
“It is long past time for the SRC to act on this issue,” added Jonathan Cetel, executive director of PennCAN. “The District has negotiated for seven months with the union on a new contract, and there has been little progress on any issue, especially on these vitally important reforms.”
“Teachers need to be chosen based on what’s best for students,” said Luciana Boone, a Philadelphia mother of a current public school student and charter school student. “Decisions need to be based on who the best person suited to teach, lead, and inspire children is; not based on tenure. The deciding factor on who is best suited for the student body should be the responsibility of the administration. Although there is no easy or clear-cut procedure, our students should not suffer because of bureaucracy or politics. They deserve better.”
“The reality is that state law already provides the SRC with the power to implement these reforms,” Cetel said. “They can establish new staffing policies, without waiting, and we urge the SRC to do so. Great schools start with great teachers, and the SRC has a responsibility to ensure that every school has the ability to hire, retain and assign the very best teachers.”
Section 696 of Pennsylvania code, which created the School Reform Commission in 2001, states that the SRC “shall not be required to engage in … negotiations” on a range of matters, including “staffing patterns and assignments, class schedules, academic calendar, places of instruction, pupil assessment, and teacher preparation time.”
This year, in schools all over the city, teachers with higher seniority have been able to “bump out” less experienced teachers as a result of school closings and budget cuts, Cetel noted. In some cases, the teacher being bumped is the better teacher-perhaps even one of the District’s best teachers.
According to a report published in May by the National Council on Teacher Quality, in 2012-13 more than half of all teachers in Philadelphia were assigned to new positions based on seniority. In other words, nearly 600 teachers were assigned based on their own wishes and years of experience, without consideration for whether the teacher’s skills were a good match for that particular school and its students.
The group noted that the SRC already has used its powers to suspend portions of state law so that it can recall laid-off employees according to factors other than seniority. But that action, which occurred in August, applies only to recalled employees, not to those transferring from one school to another. Typically in October, dozens of teachers get transferred to accommodate shifts in enrollment that have been identified since the start of the school year.
“Ideally, this would be an issue that the administration and the union agreed on,” said Maurice Hampton, public school father and past School Advisory Council member. “But after seven months and with millions of dollars hanging in the balance, it’s time for adults to do whatever they can to ensure teachers are assigned to schools and classes where they will be most effective.”