This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
"Dysfunctional … abnormal … extreme."
These were just a few of the words that a Commonwealth Court judge used Wednesday to describe the relationship between the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and its teachers’ union.
The hearing in Harrisburg reviewed the SRC’s Oct. 6 decision to unilaterally terminate the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers contract and impose health-care concessions on members. Most PFT members currently don’t pay a share of their premiums.
Under the District’s proposed plan, members of the union would incur wildly different out-of-pocket costs, depending on their situations — from just over $300 per year to more than $8,000 per year.
The District had also planned to stop payments to the union’s health and welfare fund in October. A Philadelphia judge then issued an order blocking those changes, pending the Commonwealth Court’s ruling on the core issues.
District officials argue that these changes are necessary in order to pump $54 million in savings back into its resource-strapped schools this year – $200 million over four years.
Addressing the five-judge panel, School Reform Commission counsel Mark Aronchick said the essential question before the court was whether the SRC’s action had basis in law.
"The answer is absolutely and unequivocally yes," he said, citing language in the 1998 legislation that paved the way for Philadelphia’s "distressed" school district to be taken over by the SRC, which has three state appointees and two mayoral appointees.
Union officials reject that reading of the law. In October, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas agreed to the PFT’s request for a preliminary injunction to put a hold on the changes.