Archdiocese and teachers union reach tentative deal

PHILADELPHIA - September 18, 2011

Both sides said in a statement that they have agreed not to comment until after teachers can meet to vote on whether to accept terms of the contract. A meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. If the contract is ratified, classes could resume Tuesday.

The local chapter of the Association of Catholic Teachers overwhelmingly rejected the school system's contract proposal and began its strike Sept. 6. The contract affects 711 lay teachers at 17 high schools in the five-county archdiocese.

Members oppose provisions regarding sick leave, the planned use of part-time instructors and the displacement of teachers affected by school closings, union president Rita Schwartz said. It's not about wages and benefits, she said.

"The archdiocese wants to strip our teachers of their job security and their future as teachers," Schwartz told reporters last week.

The 17 archdiocesan high schools began classes two weeks ago despite the strike because students were mainly involved in orientation activities. But system officials said last week that continued reduced staffing could jeopardize student safety as actual classes were set to begin, and the last of the archdiocese's high schools closed Thursday.

System officials said union resistance was preventing them from modernizing the schools and instituting innovations such as online grading. They noted that part-time instructors would be used for niche classes - such as engineering, robotics and Mandarin - and not core subjects.

"We don't want the children out of school," Superintendent Mary Rochford had said. "But we cannot be giving them an education that is not all that it can be."

The most recent contract, which covers more than 700 teachers, expired Aug. 31. Bargaining has been ongoing since March but has been moving "at a snail's pace" because of union foot-dragging, said Theresa Ryan-Szott, chief negotiator for the archdiocese. The union, though, has asked for mediation twice - a request rejected by the archdiocese both times.

"We believe that we know our students, our teachers, our parents and our schools better than any outsider," Ryan-Szott said.

The union previously struck over wages and benefits for about two weeks in 2003; students missed six days of school. At that time, the archdiocese had 22 high schools serving 23,300 students.

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