Strike over, Catholic schools back in action
Students at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s 17 high schools were back in classrooms on Tuesday, one day after teachers voted overwhelmingly to accept terms of a new three-year contract.
Members of the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776 voted 589-41, with one abstention, to accept a deal that was announced early Sunday evening. The teachers had been walking the picket line since Sept. 6. The key issues were work rules, rather than salary and benefits.
After the tentative contract agreement, union president Rita Schwartz summoned her members to a Monday morning meeting at Penn’s Landing Caterers. She called off the picketing for that day.
The picket signs were put away for at least three years, as the union accepted a deal that will give teachers annual raises of $1,300, $1,400 and $1,600. That amounts to an average increase of 8.3 percent over three years, a slight increase over the archdiocese’s initial offer.
A new teacher with a bachelor’s degree will make $37,050 a year.
After the vote, teachers returned to school in the afternoon for orientation.
While the union suggested a mediator during negotiations, the archdiocese feared that could have ultimately resulted in a loss of the schools’ religious identity.
“We did not want to have an outside person enter into our discussions,” said Catholic education secretary Richard McCarron.
The agreement prevented a planned Monday night protest by a new group called Catholic Parents Respond, which was angered by a lack of progress in negotiations. The group, which claimed 1,293 members, had planned to descend on archdiocese headquarters for the rally.
Had the strike continued, the parents group planned to withhold tuition payments until classes resumed.
“We are grateful that both sides appear to have met somewhere in the middle to resolve their differences,” said Theresa Keel, founder of the group, adding that parents will continue to monitor issues such as potential school closings.
Theresa Ryan-Szott, chief negotiator for the archdiocese, dismissed the influence of the group, saying its actions “in no way at all” led to an agreement.
Schools were open for a week, with non-union religious and administrative staff members working with the students. Five instructional days will need to be made up, and each school will choose the dates.
In a letter to parents, McCarron and schools Superintendent Mary Rochford outlined the new contract items that were important to the archdiocese.
Among them is GradeConnect, an online course management system that will be utilized by all teachers.
The archdiocese is also pleased that the contract will include structured lesson plans for the 2012-13 school year; the use of part-time teachers for specialized courses; the implementation of National Education Technology Standards for teachers; increased instructional time for students; increased professional development time for teachers; and a more detailed teacher evaluation system based on the nationally recognized Framework for Teaching document.
“We are trying to transform our schools,” Rochford said.
Added Ryan-Szott: “We find that those are exciting educational initiatives.”
The school year for teachers will increase from 187 to 190 days, but the archdiocese never fully fought for the right to replace full-time teachers with part-timers.
The new deal also caps at 300 the number of sick days teachers can accumulate over the years. Teachers are entitled to 12 sick days and two personal days per year.
Veteran teachers, though, will not have to worry about losing their jobs should their schools close. The archdiocese agreed to keep the “bumping” provision that gives those with seniority the ability to move to another school to replace a less-senior colleague. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com