Superintendent Arlene Ackerman doesn't want Philadelphia teachers to sign the individual contracts mailed to their homes recently, she said yesterday. They contain blanks where a salary should go and ought to be disregarded.

She does, however, want them to sign the new ones - with salary filled in - that will be mailed soon and will take effect Sept. 1. And if they don't sign, she said, she will assume they are not returning to school in the fall and will hire to replace them.

Ackerman said the contracts would help her get a handle on how many teachers she needed to hire for September. She said documents were required by state code.

"We need to be able to predict the number of teachers who are going to return every year," Ackerman said in a telephone interview. "We need to hold teachers and professional staff accountable for staying when they say they're going to stay for the year."

Going forward, teachers will be required to sign contracts annually, she said.

"This is not a choice," Ackerman said.

But Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which represents the 10,700 teachers, strongly disagrees. He asked that his members not sign the contracts and said that Ackerman doesn't understand the school code.

In Pennsylvania, teachers are considered tenured employees after their third year of work. Once they hit the tenure mark, they are employed until either they leave or there is a reduction in force in their district.

So to say that those who don't sign get replaced is wrong, he said.

"It would be a violation of the just-cause provision of our contract, as well as the tenure provision of the school code," Jordan said, shortly after emerging from a negotiating session.

The contracts are troubling, Jordan said, but so is the fact that the union wasn't consulted before the district sent out the letters.

"These are conversations that we should be having with the administration prior to them implementing something that's going to cause more upheaval among teachers," Jordan said. "The last I heard, educating children shouldn't be like a soap opera, but this absolutely is."

Ackerman admitted the district had blundered in sending out the first round of contracts.

"It obviously was an error," Ackerman said of the blank salary. "I'm still trying to understand what happened. I was surprised and dismayed."

Philadelphia teachers have not signed professional contracts for at least 20 years, Ackerman said. But it is common practice around the country, she said, and does not replace or supersede the collective-bargaining agreement the district has with the union.

"The two aren't even connected," Ackerman said of the individual professional and union collective-bargaining contracts. "Teachers and principals aren't giving up any rights."

The teachers' contracts - and contracts with four other district bargaining units - expire Aug. 31, the day before the new professional contracts go into effect.

Ackerman said principals would receive the contracts, too.

"We are going to comply with state code. We are going to be able to predict the number of teachers who are going to return," Ackerman said. "This is commonplace and should be in place if you're thinking about what's in the best interest of children."