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Judge: no teacher benefits changes for now

A judge has made permanent an injunction barring the School Reform Commission from making changes to 11,200 Philadelphia Federation of Teachers' benefits. The SRC attempted to unilaterally cancel the PFT contract on Oct. 6, a move it said would save millions annually.

The Philadelphia School District immediately appealed Common Pleas Court Judge Nina Wright Padilla's ruling, according to court documents filed Tuesday morning. The appeal will be heard in Commonwealth Court.

Both sides said the ruling was a victory for them. The parties agreed to the terms of the judge's order.

For the PFT, its members were set to begin paying a portion of their healthcare costs on Dec. 15. Padilla's order enjoining the district "from taking any unliateral action to implement changes or modifications to benefits of bargaining unit employees" also means the district's planned $54 million contract-cancellation savings is now called into question.

"We're very pleased with the court's decision," PFT president Jerry Jordan said on Tuesday morning. "I just view this as an opportunity for both parties to sit down at the table."

But for the district, the ruling means a fast-track to Commonwealth Court, the venue it hoped would hear the case.

"We are pleased with the action taken by Common Pleas Court, which will enable a fast-track appellate consideration of key legal issues that will have a direct impact on our schools and students this year," district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. "The parties asked the Common Pleas Court to enter this order and agreed on the terms to be maintained while an appeal of the order is under consideration."

The PFT agreed to put on hold its unfair labor practices complaint and request for expedited arbitration while the case is being heard.

Legally, the next step is Commonwealth Court scheduling a date for oral arguments in the case. That likely won't happen for a few months.

The district has already released $15 million to schools to spend as they see fit, and had planned on spreading more cash to schools in the coming months. It's not clear whether later cash releases will be affected.