Teacher strike ends in Philadelphia with contract about Catholic identity
By Kevin J. Jones
Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 20, 2011 / 12:19 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Catholic high school teachers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will return to classes after agreeing to a new contract on Sept. 19. The contract includes provisions about job security and the importance of the Catholic identity of the schools.
“I’m very grateful that our teachers ratified this contract today,” Richard McCarron, the archdiocese’s Secretary for Catholic Education, told a press conference Monday. “We view this contract as a watershed contract for the archdiocese’s schools.”
“It really gives us a cutting-edge program for the students and parents that we serve.”
More than 700 teachers began the strike on Sept. 6. They cited proposed changes in tenure and sick leave as well as plans to increase use of part-time instructors as their reasons for the walkout. Administrators backing a new contract pointed to the need to update the local Catholic educational system.
The new contract includes better job protections for instructors, pay increases totaling about 8.3 percent over an individual’s three-year contract, and provisions about Catholic identity.
“It was never about money. It was about job security and it was about respect,” said Rita Schwartz, president the Association of Catholic Teachers Local 1776.
The contract affirms the vital importance of the presence of vowed religious faculty members. It requires all teachers to assist in the religious formation and education ministry of the school.
While some labor leaders had proposed mediation for the contract dispute, McCarron said mediation might have interfered with Catholic identity measures.
“We had several Catholic identity issues on the table to preserve the religious teaching faculty in our schools,” McCarron explained. “We inserted a preamble at the beginning of the contract which discussed our faith formation process. There are several times where we refer to attendance at religious exercises and retreats.
“We did not want to have an outside person enter into those discussions with us, because they are central to our mission.”
Under the new contract, all teachers will be required to use a computerized grading system which allows parents to monitor their children’s performance. The contract will expand the archdiocese’s online course offerings and will allow schools to create pilot programs to address certain issues.
Archdiocesan education officials said that no full-time teachers will be replaced by part time teachers. The contract creates special provisions for each school to choose two departments in which they may hire additional part-time teachers.
“We regret that the strike caused a delay in the school year and inconveniences for you,” McCarron and school superintendent Mary E. Rochford said in a Sept. 19 letter to parents. “Please know that our only desire was to continue to offer the best academic programs possible for your children.”
There are 16,502 students at 17 archdiocesan high schools in the five-county Philadelphia region.