TEACHERS and staffers who will soon be forced to leave their school and students behind are frustrated with the decision by the Philadelphia School District to relocate Abigail Vare School into nearby George Washington Elementary, pushing out Washington's current employees.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed a grievance May 13 opposing the decision to remove all Washington teachers and instructional-support staff from their positions at the school, in South Philly's Southwark section, in favor of Vare staff. The vote to close Vare School in Pennsport and move its program into Washington was taken in March.

"We have no idea why we're in this situation. What did we do?" asked Joe Myers, a fifth-grade teacher at Washington. "There's always another motive behind what they're doing. . . . [The district] never could give us a straight answer."

The district agreed this week to the union's right to an expedited arbitration, but an arbitrator has not yet been secured.

District schools have closed before and city students have been moved into new facilities, but never, teachers union officials said, has a district school been shuttered and its entire staff moved into an already-occupied building.

The only time the district can remove teachers-union staffers is when a school is deemed to be underperforming. Both sides agreed that wasn't the case with Washington.

"The district is keeping Washington open. The facility will be a functioning facility. And the students are remaining," teachers union vice president Arlene Kempin said. "No contract language covers the fact that the school is remaining open."

District officials are "blatantly violating the agreement they made with the federation regarding how these procedures would work when a school is being reorganized or closed," union president Jerry Jordan said.

"This is about adhering to the agreement the administration and the federation made five years ago. The question becomes, 'What's next?' " he said.

Washington teachers and support staff will be considered forced transfers, meaning they can choose a site or position from a list of vacancies. No teachers' union members will lose seniority.

As of June 30, according to the district, Washington will cease to exist as a school program.

"The district is implementing the school-closure resolution voted on by the [School Reform Commission]," a statement from the district said. "We are following the process necessary to accomplish the closure and relocation of the schools."

Joan Foley, who teaches at Washington, said that as a city taxpayer, she questions the district's decision.

The district is "so desperate for money . . . [yet will] spend money to fight us on this when it's so clear in the contract," she said.

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