Arbitrator Rejects Overhaul Plan for 2 Philadelphia Schools

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After teaching at Olney High School in Philadelphia for 30 years, Michele Collins was horrified to find out in February that she would be forced to leave.

Her transfer notice followed the district's announcement that it would move at least 75 percent of the faculty at Olney and at Audenried High to other jobs in an attempt to improve their flagging performance. Months later, on the day Ms. Collins planned to apply for another position, she heard that she could go back to Olney after all. An arbitrator voided the involuntary transfers on July 9.

"This has been the worst of my 30 years of teaching," the veteran educator said recently.

Her emotional roller coaster ride illustrates the turmoil provoked by Superintendent David W. Hornbeck's drastic plan to overhaul schools like Olney and Audenried that are plagued with low test scores and other problems. After Mr. Hornbeck announced the plan in February, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers sued the district and called in the arbitrator. Hundreds of students walked out of Olney High in protest. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1997.)

Yet officials of the 215,000-student district and the 20,000-member teachers' union say the arbitrator's decision last month ushered in an unusual truce.

Immediately after the ruling, the district dropped a requirement that teachers who left either school voluntarily would lose seniority. The union, which had been discouraging its members from seeking jobs at the two schools, agreed to late transfer requests.

"I never thought I would be saying this, but we are now on the same track," said William Epstein, the district's spokesman.

"Right now, relations are much better," agreed Hal Moss, the union's spokesman. "We're taking it one day at a time."

'Keystone' Schools

After Mr. Hornbeck took charge of the district in 1994, he reached an unprecedented agreement with the union that allowed him, under certain conditions, to transfer most of a school's faculty. Targeted schools would be designated "Keystone schools."

The arbitrator, Richard R. Kasher, ruled that Mr. Hornbeck's February announcement violated the terms of the 1994 agreement by failing to notify the union of the district's intentions as early as possible and to include the union in writing criteria for identifying Keystone schools.

"It was very clear to us that the superintendent had no intentions in involving us in any way, shape, or form," Mr. Moss said recently.

Mr. Kasher also noted that the negotiations over the Keystone program were hastily conducted, that neither party fully understood how it would work, and that the agreement's provisions were "vague and indefinite."

"Any process like this is more likely to be successful if it is truly a cooperative venture," Mr. Moss said. "It can't feel like someone hitting you over the head with a club."

Vol. 16, Issue 41, Page 6

Published in Print: August 6, 1997, as Arbitrator Rejects Overhaul Plan for 2 Philadelphia Schools
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