Philadelphia Catholic school teachers strike

Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia high schools opened last week with lay teach­ers walk­ing a pick­et line, and both sides were con­tinu­ing ne­go­ti­ations as the Times went to press on Tues­day.

Schools were open for a week, with non-uni­on re­li­gious and ad­min­is­tra­tion staff mem­bers work­ing with the stu­dents.

But six­teen of the 17 arch­dioces­an schools were closed as of Wed­nes­day. Arch­bish­op Wood, in Warmin­ster, stayed open an ex­tra day be­cause it lost a day last week due to flood­ing.

The arch­diocese said the missed days will be made up, but it hopes to avoid ex­tend­ing the school year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice of Cath­ol­ic Edu­ca­tion, the stum­bling block is what it calls “21st-cen­tury edu­ca­tion re­form.”

In the view of the As­so­ci­ation of Cath­ol­ic Teach­ers, Loc­al 1776, the arch­diocese is threat­en­ing job se­cur­ity, par­tic­u­larly for vet­er­an teach­ers.

“After blood, sweat and tears for so many years, it’s like we don’t count,” said Span­ish teach­er Mary Jones, the uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ive at Fath­er Judge. “You really have no sta­bil­ity.”

However, su­per­in­tend­ent Mary Roch­ford and chief ne­go­ti­at­or Theresa Ry­an-Szott said in a me­dia con­fer­ence call on Tues­day that the tra­di­tion­al “bump­ing” pro­vi­sion will re­main in the con­tract.

Thus, vet­er­an teach­ers would likely find em­ploy­ment if their school closed.

“All of those teach­ers would be pick­ing spots at an­oth­er school,” Ry­an-Szott said.

The arch­diocese’s chief ne­go­ti­at­or said no more than a half-dozen is­sues are out­stand­ing, though she wouldn’t spe­cify them. The arch­dioces­an ne­go­ti­at­ing team had been “dis­ap­poin­ted” that Loc­al 1776 con­tin­ued to ask for a 14.5-per­cent salary in­crease over three years. The uni­on has lowered its salary in­crease re­quest to an un­dis­closed fig­ure.

The arch­diocese is of­fer­ing 7.84 per­cent over three years, a num­ber Roch­ford labeled “very gen­er­ous.” The su­per­in­tend­ent noted that, in a tu­ition-based sys­tem, salary in­creases lead to tu­ition in­creases that lead to some par­ents find­ing Cath­ol­ic edu­ca­tion not af­ford­able.

The uni­on in­sists that oth­er is­sues are more prom­in­ent.

“This one is about work­ing con­di­tions and work rules. It’s not about money at all,” said theo­logy teach­er Bob Zingle, the uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ive at St. Hubert.

The arch­diocese ar­gues that it is ad­dress­ing con­cerns about job se­cur­ity while main­tain­ing aca­dem­ic pri­or­it­ies. It claims to be re­ceiv­ing sup­port from par­ents and school ad­min­is­trat­ors.

At­tend­ance was re­por­ted at 94 per­cent when schools were in ses­sion dur­ing the strike. When schools opened last week, stu­dents com­pleted ori­ent­a­tion pro­grams. Stand­ard­ized test­ing, which had been sched­uled for later in the month, was to be ad­min­istered to fresh­men and sopho­mores this week.

Par­ents are be­ing asked to check arch­ for up­dated in­form­a­tion.

About 16,500 stu­dents at­tend the 17 arch­dioces­an high schools in the five-county Phil­adelphia re­gion. Some 800 lay teach­ers are on strike.

Zingle, who has spent his en­tire 37-year ca­reer at St. Hubert, de­scribed the go­ings-on in­side the schools as “house­keep­ing.” Be­sides test­ing, he said, stu­dents have been at­tend­ing Mass and as­sem­blies.

This is the fourth time in his ca­reer that the uni­on has gone on strike. At a time of dwind­ling en­roll­ment and rumored school clos­ings, it’s likely some teach­ing po­s­i­tions will be elim­in­ated in the fu­ture.

At present, seni­or­ity reigns. So, when North Cath­ol­ic and Car­din­al Dougherty closed in June 2010, the vet­er­an teach­ers at those schools were able to find work at oth­er arch­dioces­an schools.

At St. Hubert, there are more than 700 stu­dents and 31 lay teach­ers. The stu­dents have been sup­port­ive, their teach­ers say.

Uni­on mem­bers agree they’d rather be in­side, not out­side, the school build­ings. “We’re in the busi­ness of teach­ing kids and we want to be in the classroom,” Zingle said.

Still, the vote to strike was over­whelm­ing. “Mor­ale is great. We’re hold­ing strong,” said Jones, the uni­on rep at Judge. “We’re in it for the long haul, if ne­ces­sary.”

In 2003, when schools closed dur­ing a two-week strike, money and health care were the ma­jor points of dis­agree­ment. Teach­ers went back to work, but only after nar­rowly passing the pro­posed agree­ment.

At Judge, stu­dents had been ming­ling with teach­ers, who en­cour­aged them to go in­side. Some mo­tor­ists passing by have been honk­ing in sup­port.

The 60 teach­ers have been pick­et­ing in three-hour shifts dur­ing the morn­ing and early af­ter­noon, for­ti­fied by cof­fee, ba­gels, cook­ies and oth­er treats.

At Arch­bish­op Ry­an, about 80 lay teach­ers are walk­ing the pick­et line.

Paul Ped­low has taught Eng­lish for 47 years, spend­ing his first nine years at Judge be­fore mov­ing to Ry­an. He’s the act­ing uni­on rep­res­ent­at­ive and re­calls Loc­al 1776 ne­go­ti­at­ing its first con­tract in 1968.

Ped­low and oth­er uni­on mem­bers op­pose pro­pos­als that would lengthen the school day and year, add re­spons­ib­il­it­ies to de­part­ment chairs and change the meth­od of eval­u­ation and ways les­son plans are de­signed.

The vet­er­an edu­cat­or said it’s a myth that a teach­er’s day ends when he or she walks out the door.

“Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth,” he said, not­ing the nightly work done at home and in the late sum­mer pre­par­ing for the first day of school. ••

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