During a meeting of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers last night, President Jerry Jordan drew thunderous applause when he denounced key contract proposals from the Philadelphia School District.
"Some of you have asked, 'What does the district want?' They want everything," Jordan told the roughly 5,000 members gathered at Temple University's Liacouras Center.
What the union does not want in its new contract, Jordan said, are provisions creating longer school days and a longer year, teacher-merit pay tied to student tests or schools being turned over to private managers and charter-school operators - a proposal that district Superintendent Arlene Ackerman has dubbed "Renaissance Schools."
Turning over struggling schools to outsiders has not worked in Philadelphia or elsewhere, said Jordan, who promised the district "a big fight" over that proposal.
Jordan told his members that they would have to form alliances with parent and community groups and politicians if they are to win a better contract.
"We need to stand together," he said, drawing the loudest applause. "We cannot allow this administration or anyone to divide this union."
The teachers' contract expires Aug. 31. Negotiations have not gone smoothly, and another development yesterday may further complicate matters.
Ackerman renewed her demand that teachers sign individual contracts or face disciplinary action, a position supported by state Secretary of Education Gerald Zahorchak.
In a letter sent to all district teachers, Ackerman wrote that failure to sign the contracts would result in consequences dictated by state law.
In an interview, she clarified that she would turn over to the state the names of all employees who refuse to sign contracts within two weeks of receiving them.
"I don't know what the discipline will be because this has not happened before," Ackerman said of employees' refusing to sign contracts. Because of administrative lapses, it's been more than 30 years since the district has required professional employees to sign individual contracts, Ackerman said.
Requiring employees to sign such contracts is commonplace in districts across the state and country, she said.
It's not clear what the consequences of not signing would be.
Jordan reiterated last night that because of tenure rules, only teachers who have just finished their third year should sign the contracts. He has asked Ackerman to detail which teachers have signed them.
In another development, Ackerman said she has been tracking any recent grade changes.
Last week in an e-mail to all teachers, she said that they should give students the grades they had earned. This was in response to some teachers' claiming that they had felt pressured to give failing students passing grades. *