PHILADELPHIA. After more than a year of negotiating, nearly 17,000 teachers and school staff will finally get to vote tonight on a three-year contract that could mean significant changes for them and thousands of students in the Philadelphia School District.
The only problem? Most of them don't know what's in the contract.
Although both sides claim the deal is a win-win, neither the teachers' union nor the district has revealed details of the agreement, reached after a marathon negotiation session early Tuesday morning, causing some frustrated teachers to say they might vote it down due to lack of information.
"There's going to be a lot of big changes," said fifth-year teacher Michael Roth. "With an hour, I don't have enough time to think over everything, let alone read everything."
The contract reportedly includes major changes regarding site selection and longer hours at poor-performing schools.
Roth, a union representative, said he plans to make a motion to postpone the ratification vote so that members can digest the 120-page agreement.
Union officials claim, however, that the procedure has been this way for years and that they're not concerned about opposition from frustrated educators.
"I think that when teachers come and hear what has been negotiated, they will find the terms understandable and acceptable," said union spokeswoman Barbara Goodman.
One union representative said he expects the deal to give principals of poor-performing schools more authority regarding work rules.
"If it's what I expect it to be, I'm inclined to vote no," said the third-year high school teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Some are voting no simply on the principle of getting an inadequate amount of time, which is valid."
In previous years, the union has provided more information for teachers on a restricted-access Web site or through other forms, the teacher said. He suspects the change is due to some concessions.
"I believe it's because there are so many changes on things the union has long stood for, things we’re having to give up."