Archdiocese to close high schools during strike

PHILADELPHIA - September 13, 2011

In a letter to parents posted on their website, the Archdiocese said the high schools will be closed until a settlement is reached and teachers return to class.

The letter goes on to say "We have accomplished for our students all of the beginning tasks of this new school year."

Superintendent of Schools Mary Rochford explains, "What's the difference with tomorrow? We need teachers in the classroom to start teaching the subject areas. So, we don't have the teachers to do that, so there's no way we can bring the full student body back."

On Tuesday, the union had an offer with an important string attached.

"I will ask our teachers to return to their classrooms and teach and they would work under the old contract," Rita Schwartz, President of the Association of Catholic Teachers, said Tuesday.

It was a union offer to return to work, but only if the Archdiocese accepts a third party mediator something it has rejected twice in the past.

Instead, school administrators say the strikers need to accept new flexible work rules.

The Superintendant and Chief Negotiatior Theresa Ryan-Szott have indicated that the Union is dragging its feet, delaying talks because it's been reluctant to embrace structural changes in school operations.

For example, the Archdiocese wants the universal use of an online grade management system, which is used in some public districts. It requires teachers to post grades and assignments for students and parents to see.

"They can see what assignments are due, what assignments may have been missed. They can get a sense of what grade the child has at that particular point," said Szott.

However, Schwartz said as many as 100 issues remain, including the increased use of part-time teachers. The union says it fears wholesale work rule changes could lead to job security issues, including non-union part-timers taking work from unionized full time teachers.

"Our teachers cannot work if they don't feel that they are protected, that their jobs can be taken from them anytime," Schwartz said.

Rochford says that's nonsense.

"The proposal says parttime teachers will never replace fulltime teachers," Rochford said.

The local chapter of the Association of Catholic Teachers overwhelmingly rejected the system's contract proposal last week and began its strike Sept. 6.

All school days missed beginning with September 14, 2011 will be made up when the school year resumes.

Catholic teachers make between $36,000-$70,000 each year.

Despite the heated rhetoric, the two sides were scheduled to continue talking late Tuesday and tomorrow.

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