The Philadelphia School District is taking its attempt to cancel its teachers' contract to the state's highest court.
District officials announced Monday that they had appealed to the state Supreme Court a Commonwealth Court decision that the School Reform Commission lacked authority to impose new terms on the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The SRC called the lower court's ruling "wrongly decided."
"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," the commission said in a statement.
The commission argued that 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."
Jerry Jordan, president of the teachers' union, in a statement called the move to further the litigation "outrageous" and "extremely disappointing," saying the SRC was choosing "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 district had hoped to save $54 million this school year by requiring 12,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, and others to pay for a portion of their health benefits. The planned changes would cost PFT members roughly between $72 and $800 a month, depending on their salary, plan, and family status.
Without the contract cancellation, the district is projecting a deficit of $80 million for the next school year.
The legal fight has not been cheap. According to the most recent figures available from the district, it spent $856,165.16 through December in fees to two law firms.
The district's governing body unilaterally canceled the contract on Oct. 6, saying it was allowed to do so by the law that created the SRC. Commonwealth Court judges disagreed sharply.
The panel ruled that the law contained no "reference to a provision which expressly gives the SRC the right to cancel" a collective bargaining agreement.
The PFT and district held more than 100 bargaining sessions over 21 months, but were still far apart when the SRC unanimously voted to cancel the contract.
In documents filed with the Supreme Court, the district's attorneys took issue with the Commonwealth Court ruling, calling its conclusions "clearly and demonstrably wrong."
"The court's core holding - that the power to cancel 'any contract' must be construed to exempt collective bargaining agreements - is fundamentally flawed," district lawyers argued.
The remedy, they said, was a "full airing" before the Supreme Court.
The high court last year declined to hear a case initiated by the SRC that relied on similar arguments. The commission wanted the Supreme Court to affirm its right to bypass seniority in teacher assignments, layoffs and recalls.