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Court Orders Rehiring Of Teachers and New Contract Negotiations

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Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (pft) complied with a court order last Wednesday and returned to their classrooms, ending a walkout that had kept most of the school district's 213,000 students idle since Sept. 8.

pft spokesman Mitchell Rubin said the union was considering whether to appeal the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court's ruling, which upheld an Oct. 12 Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas decision to order the teachers to return to work. He said the teachers' union would probably announce what it would do early this week.

A spokesman for the school system said the school board also was keeping open its option to appeal the new ruling.

pft President John Murray, in announcing the union's decision to "go back to work and put the children back in the classrooms," also called off a city-wide general strike that had been scheduled for Wednesday.

Superintendent Michael P. Marcase and at a press conference Wednesday that classes for all students would resume on Thursday. Earlier last week, school officials said that approximately 200 of the city's 266 schools were being kept open during the 50-day strike. Most of those were elementary schools offering classes for fourth-graders only, they said.

School Year To Be Cut

Mr. Marcase also said that, due to the strike, the current school year would be cut back to 170 days, 10 days short of the state's required 180-day school calendar.

According to school spokesman Elliott Alexander, the abbreviated school year could cost the school system up to $10 million in state subsidies next year, $1 million for each school day under the minimum requirement.

The teachers' union voted to strike on Sept. 8 following the school board's decision to lay off 3,000 pft members and to rescind a 10-percent pay increase that had been agreed to following a 22-day strike last year. The school board said the measures were necessary in order to offset an estimated $236-million budget deficit for the 1981-82 school year. State law prohibits school systems from operating with an unbalanced budget.

The Commonwealth Court's ruling, which was handed down late Tuesday afternoon, contained good and bad news for both the union and the school system.

The appeals court agreed with the school system's position that the terms of second year of the contract--during which the pay increase was to have taken effect--were unenforcable because the school board could not gather the funds to finance it.

But in light of that finding, the appeals court said, the school system and the union were bound to follow the terms of the first year of the contract, which contained a no-layoff clause. Therefore, it ruled, the school system was obligated to re-hire the pft members that it furloughed this past summer.

Mr. Alexander said the school system had planned to reduce the current year's budget deficit by approximately $161 million by fur6loughing the teachers, cutting programs implemented last year, and withholding the pay increase.

"Now, it's all but certain that we'll have to carry a deficit this year, but at this point it's impossible to tell how large it might be,'' he said.

"We still need a few days to determine how much money we might have saved during the strike, and how much more we are going to have to pay out in the additional salaries."

Negotiations over the provisions of a new contract were expected to begin late last week, according to Mr. Rubin. Prior to the back-to-work call, union and school-system negotiators were said to be no closer to settling the issues of pay increases and layoffs than they were at the strike's beginning.

Those two issues are expected to dominate the new round of bargaining.

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