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More voices urge action in district dispute

Two local education-reform organizations have filed papers asking the state Supreme Court to act quickly on the School Reform Commission's request to affirm it has broad powers to impose work-rule changes.

The Philadelphia School Partnership and PennCAN (Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now) on Monday filed an amicus curiae - friend of the court - brief with the high court. PSP and PennCAN, in the brief, noted the organizations are "deeply concerned that the ongoing and annually-worsening city school budget crisis - and the intractable labor disputes that always accompany it - will continue to erode the state of public education in Philadelphia."

The SRC has moved to make broad changes, including bypassing seniority for Philadelphia School District teacher assignments, transfers, layoffs and recalls. The commission asked the state Supreme Court to declare definitively that the 2001 law that created the SRC gives it the power to do make those changes.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has vehemently opposed the SRC's position, arguing that every change sought by the SRC has traditionally been subject to collective bargaining.

The state Department of Education has also weighed in with the high court, supporting the SRC's position. PSP and PennCAN, in their brief, said that without Supreme Court action, "the Philadelphia schools will remain in escalating economic peril...budgetary problems in the city's public schools are worsening at a quicker pace each day. A decade of operating deficits, changes in public funding, and increased competition from public charter schools gravely threatens the Philadelphia public schools and limits the School Reform Commission's ability to maintain an adequate educational program."

The SRC, PSP and PennCAN argue, must have "every tool legitimately provided to it by the legislature, including the ability to undertake reasonable staffing its disposal."

Both PSP and PennCAN are polarizing organizations, viewed by some as supporting charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools. PSP aims to raise $100 million in five years to help spur reform in city schools; it has distributed tens of millions to charter, district and parochial schools so far.