May 19, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments May 11 over whether the Philadelphia School Reform Commission could legally cancel city teachers’ union contract.
The commission had done that in 2014, after almost two years of contract talks, in order to force teachers to pay more for health insurance, but lower courts ruled it did not have the legal authority. Commission attorney David H. Pittinsky argued that it could legally void contracts, because the state legislature had given it “an arsenal of rights” to cut costs. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers attorney Ralph Teti dismissed that argument as legal “gymnastics.” While the laws that enabled the state to take over Philadelphia schools in 2001 allow the commission to cancel contracts with vendors such as food-services providers, he told the court, “there is nothing in here to suggest you have the right to suspend a contract with your own employees.” Read more