Philadelphia Strike Ruling May Force Early Schools Closing
Philadelphia's public schools, which just re-opened Oct. 29 following a 50-day teacher walkout, could be forced to close earlier than planned at the end of this school year for lack of money, according to Superintendent of Schools Michael P. Marcase.
A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruling that ended the strike and ordered the school system to re-hire 3,000 teachers "exacerbates our already very severe financial problems," Mr. Marcase explained.
A school-system spokesman, Elliott Alexander, said that the system is relying on city and state officials to follow through on promises of additional funding to help them continue operating through the end of the school year. Mr. Alexander said that the city's 268 schools re-opened "in a very routine manner despite a few typical start-up problems." For example, he said, some teachers were ordered to report to schools that were closed during budget cutbacks this summer.
Mr. Alexander said that he had heard of no serious incidents between teachers who sup6ported the strike and those who crossed picket lines. But "there might be something that we haven't heard about," he cautioned. "It's hard to say what the long-term effects of this strike will be," he added. "In some cases, teachers still hold grudges against colleagues who crossed picket lines during the strike of 1973."
The 22,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (pft) went on strike on Sept. 8 to protest the school board's decision to rescind a 10-percent pay increase agreed upon last year and lay off approximately 3,000 pft members. The school board made those cutbacks to help offset an estimated $236-million budget deficit.
The court ruling that ended the strike upheld the school board's decision to cancel the pay increase but ordered it to re-hire the laid-off employees. Mr. Alexander said the school system had planned to save about $161 million this year by laying off the teachers, discontinuing the programs and classes that they would have instructed, and cancelling the pay raise.
Last Monday the schools' finance director, Irvin R. Davis, said a cost analysis of the court order indicates that the school system could end the current school year with a $100-million deficit. State law prohibits school systems from operating with a budget deficit.
But promises of financial aid from city and state officials, which would total somewhere between $54 million and $74 million, could help the school system avoid ending the year in the red, Mr. Alexander said. Those funds, however, could be a long time in coming, he added. State officials have indicated that their share of the school aid cannot be made available until next July, or perhaps as late as the following December.
And Joseph E. Coleman, president of the city council, said the council will not approve the transfer of additional funds to the school district until a long-term contract is reached with the teachers' union. School district and union negotiators returned to the bargaining table last Wednesday, the first time since the end of the strike, Mr. Alexander said.--T.M.