By Jan Carabeo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — If the School District of Philadelphia has its way, seniority won’t play as big a role in filling classrooms next year.

The union has long been against changing work rules and plans to fight them in court.

Eyewitness News Reporter Jan Carabeo explains why this move is so controversial.

We’re talking about the way the district fills teacher vacancies.

Starting next school year, each and every school in the School District of Philadelphia will have what are called site selection committees, and they won’t just be looking at seniority.

“We are trying to match the skills and abilities of teachers with the needs of students,” Philadelphia School Superintendent Dr. William Hite said.

And Dr. Hite says sometimes the best fits don’t include teachers who have been on the job the longest.

New staffing guidelines announced this week will end the practice of solely using seniority when deciding who to hire or to lay-off.

“If individuals are making significant contributions to their school whether it is a grant that they are sponsoring,” Dr. Hite says, “Those are significant contributions, then those can serve as exceptions to just a straight seniority determination.”

A committee made up of the principal, teachers and parents will determine teacher staffing at each school.

But the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers says the majority of city schools already do this, that seniority isn’t the issue at all.

“Real reform costs money and that’s the real issue. And that’s what we need. They should be focusing their attention on getting full funding for our schools,” Arlene Kempin, Vice President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers said.

The PFT says its been at the negotiating table for more than a year working on a new labor agreement and issues like seniority.

But the district says it needed to put these new rules into place now as principals start to work with new budgets and try to determine staffing for next school year.

The PFT isn’t buying it.

“They don’t want to collaborate with the people that are actually out there servicing children every day and that’s pathetic,” Kempin said.

The district has also filed a case in the state supreme court to confirm its legal right to make these changes. Of course, union plans to fight that.

In the meantime, the superintendent says schools will be operating under these new guidelines.


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