The Philadelphia School District began its biggest layoff in decades Monday, issuing 3,024 pink slips and triggering its largest union to fight at least some of the dismissals in court.
Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox issued a temporary restraining order stopping layoffs of 1,523 teachers until a June 14 hearing on whether the district violated their collective bargaining agreement by exempting 200 teachers from the layoff.
Even as pink slips were being delivered, Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman, under fire for keeping Mayor Nutter in the dark on a deal to save full-day kindergarten, apologized but said she was acting to help families.
"I made an educational decision which obviously had political fallout," Ackerman said in an interview. "I had good intentions. I'm sorry for whatever embarrassment this caused for the mayor."
Last week, Ackerman put together a plan to pay for full-day kindergarten - which was on the chopping block due to a $629 million budget gap - with federal Title I money. Nutter, who had said he supported giving the district $75 to $110 million in new funding, learned of the federal solution just an hour before Ackerman made the announcement.
Nutter has called for the School Reform Commission to open its books and give the city much more say in how it spends its money.
In a nine-page letter sent Sunday, Nutter set a Thursday deadline for the district to sign the "education accountability agreement" to formalize the city's oversight and say how it would spend any additional city and state funding. The district would then have until June 15 to supply further details, such as information on contracts.
Ackerman said the district was already sharing information with the city, but she would provide whatever the mayor asked for.
"I have no other choice here," she said. "If he needs to feel more comfortable with some of our information, then we'll give it to him."
She said she had always believed she and Nutter had a "pretty good working relationship," and that she had spoken to him several times over the weekend.
Asked whether this bump will affect her tenure, Ackerman said that she needs to "understand what the letter really means in terms of my tenure, my relationship with him."
Mark McDonald, Nutter's press secretary, said "the mayor is focused on the issues. He's focused on the kids and he's not getting into personalities or personnel issues at this time."
Council also announced Monday that members will stick around past the previously scheduled summer recess on June 16. A special session has been scheduled for June 23, and Council has until June 30 to resolve the school funding and municipal budget. The city must have a budget by June 30 or it won't be able to spend money.
The extra time helps the mayor as he attempts to gather support for his proposals for raising money for the schools - the new soda tax and a real estate tax hike. Both proposals are scheduled to be discussed in a Council committee meeting on Friday.
Nutter met with a number of Council members on Monday to remind them that the district still faces a dire financial situation despite Ackerman's move last week to save full-day kindergarten. The mayor is pushing them to pass the soda tax.
An extra week of deliberations also gives the well-organized coalition opposed to the soda tax - including the soda industry, store owners and the Teamsters union - time to marshal its forces.
The mayor travels to Harrisburg Tuesday for previously-scheduled meetings with legislators he declined to name. He will ask them to pitch in with more state dollars for the district.
It's unclear whether the state will help.
In Philadelphia to speak to a graduation, Gov. Corbett said he had met earlier in the day with the legislative leadership and is waiting to see how the state Senate responds to the budget approved by the House that restores some of the $1.1 billion in cuts that were included in his March proposal.
"We're still in the early stages of discussion, frankly, as to what the final product will be."
Corbett said he plans to nominate a replacement "soon" to fill the vacancy on the Philadelphia School Reform Commission created when David Girard-diCarlo resigned in February.
And Corbett said he will use that appointment and another in early 2012 to ensure money the school district spends state funds wisely.
"I'm reading the newspapers," Corbett told reporters after addressing graduates of Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School. "I'm seeing what's going on down here," he added in apparent reference to reports of an IRS audit and requests by Nutter and other city officials for details about district finances.
Meanwhile, the Nutter administration was focused Monday on the impact of the layoffs "on the consequences to the educational quality of students," said Clay Armbrister, Nutter's chief of staff.
The layoffs number included 490 central office staff who will be laid off at the end of June.
The court action affects only the 1,523 teacher layoffs; the others still hold.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said that the district's move to exempt from layoffs 200 teachers at Promise Academies, district-run turnaround schools, infringed upon the union's contract.
"We're here to fight to make sure it's done correctly," Jordan said. "No one wants layoffs at any time, but if you're going to do it, do it in the correct manner. Do not favor one group of teachers over another group."
He called the way the layoffs were handled, with notice given during the school day, "totally reprehensible.
"Children had to see them crying," he said.
And much is still uncertain, with displaced teachers who are not laid off unsure of when they will be able to select new school assignments.
Neal Follman, an English teacher at Sayre High School who has taught in the district for about a year and a half, was dismayed when he received his layoff notice about 2:30 p.m.
"I feel like a lot of kids are going to be the ones that suffer," Follman said. "Getting rid of these young teachers who have passion and energy for their jobs is really a shame."
A central officer staffer who was spared from the layoffs called the day "horrible."
"People were crying, hugging, trying to make the best of it, collecting their things," said the staffer, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.
Staff writers Marcia Gelbart, Susan Snyder and Martha Woodall contributed to this article.