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PA Supreme Court won’t hear layoffs case

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The School District and the teachers’ union are going back to the Court of Common Pleas.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused on Wednesday the District’s request to take jurisdiction of the teachers’ union’s complaint about the District’s procedure for laying off over 1,600 teachers, sending the case back to the courtroom of Judge Idee C. Fox.

Fox, who last week granted a restraining order putting the layoffs on hold, is now free to schedule a preliminary hearing to determine whether an injunction should be granted.

"I’m gratified the matter will be heard in the Common Pleas Court where it belongs," said Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT).

The PFT is arguing that the District violated the teachers’ contract by attempting to exempt about 200 teachers at District-run Promise Academies from the seniority-based layoff system stipulated in their collective bargaining agreement. Late last week, the District had asked the state Supreme Court to take over the case.

Jordan said the hearing in Common Pleas Court has not yet been rescheduled, but his lawyers expect it to occur within the next few days. In a statement, the District said only that it was awaiting the new hearing date. In the meantime, teacher layoffs are still on hold.

Pink slips have been going out to central office staff since last week, however. On Wednesday, Jordan also called for the District to release information about those cuts.

"It’s time for the District to become transparent and let everybody know how many people were laid off from 440," said Jordan.

Last month, the School Reform Commission has passed an "interim" budget that calls for over 3,400 total layoffs. But to date, District has refused to provide details about the number of layoff notices that have already gone out or to identify individuals in the central office who have received notices.

The lack of information led Jordan to question whether the District is living up to its commitment to slash central administration staff and spending by 50 percent to minimize cuts that directly impact schools.

For months, said Jordan, the District said 1,260 teaching positions would be lost, but that the number of actual layoffs would be offset by retirements and resignations. Although more than 800 teachers retired, he said, the number of teachers receiving pink slips somehow ballooned to 1,672.

"There is no way I can trust their numbers or what they say," said Jordan. "They are not credible."

A statement from District spokesperson Elizabeth Childs addressed the process for central office layoffs, but offered no new details on the scope of the cuts.

"Each manager made layoff decisions based on the needs of his/her office for the next year," said Childs. "In the coming weeks District leadership will continue to restructure offices to maximize the efficiency of its workforce and will share new or altered job responsibilities with affected employees.

On Wednesday, the District was required to deliver to Mayor Nutter’s office extensive documentation, including a revised organizational chart detailing the restructuring. Both the District and the mayor’s office are refusing to make the documents public at this point, however.

"The Educational Accountability Agreement is a partnership between the Commonwealth, the City of Philadelphia and the District," said District spokesperson Jamilah Fraser. "Like any partnership we must give the parties involved an opportunity to receive and ask questions before providing [the information] to other parties."

Fraser said that "other parties" not yet privy to the information include members of City Council, who will be holding hearings Thursday morning as they continue to wrestle with whether and how to provide additional funding to help the District address its $629 million budget shortfall.