The School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia School District filed an appeal Monday to a Commonwealth Court ruling that the commission did not have the authority to cancel a contract with the Philadelphia teachers' union.
The appeal will go to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The district had 30 days to appeal the Jan. 22 decision from the lower court and Monday was the deadline.
In its ruling, the panel of judges rejected the SRC's argument that provisions in the School Code gave it the power to impose terms. According to the court, the sides would have to declare an impasse in negotiations, which has not happened.
But the SRC and the district contend that during periods of fiscal distress the SRC has the authority to identify savings in labor contracts and redirect those resources to schools.
"We remain convinced that the SRC had clear statutory authority when it acted last fall to redirect a projected $200 million in savings to our schools over the next four years," read a statement from the district. "The SRC was exercising the precise function for which it was created: achieving financial stability for the District in a crisis of underfunding that has prevented our schools from providing basic resources and services to students."
PFT President Jerry Jordan issued a response to the appeal, which said in part "The SRC's appeal to the PA Supreme Court is extremely disappointing because the SRC has once again chosen to spend scarce dollars on litigation rather than on the children in classrooms. They have already spent nearly $1 million in an attempt to break the PFT contract while our schoolchildren continue to go without paper, books, and other classroom supplies and resources."
The five-member commission swiftly voted Oct. 6 to unilaterally cancel the PFT contract and impose health care benefits changes after 21 months of negotiations. The changes would have required members to contribute between 5 and 13 percent towards their benefits, beginning Dec. 15, and eliminated the district's contribution to the PFT Health and Welfare Fund. The district said the changes would have saved about $44 million annually for the next four years.
A major part of the district's argument centered on the word contract. Section 693 of the School Code gives a special board of control the power to "cancel or to renegotiate any contract other than teachers' contracts…" The district's lawyers argued that the language did not apply to a collective bargaining agreement, which did not exist at the time of the legislation. The court, however, disagreed with that view.
The cash-starved district is counting on the savings to help close a projected $80 million deficit for next school year.