Philadelphia school children who headed to bed Sunday night with dreams of some unplanned vacation time were awakened yesterday to a very different reality. That's because after 15 hours of marathon contract negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, city officials came to an agreement early yesterday morning that included a compromise on extending the school day by a half-hour. The agreement effectively ended the three-day-old PFT strike that threatened to shut down all 264 of Philadelphia's public schools, halting classes and activities for more than 210,000 area students. "I think it's a great deal for the union, for the children of this city, for the future of this city," Mayor John Street said after emerging from contract talks at around 5:30 a.m. yesterday. Specific terms of the contract were not disclosed, though Street added that more information would be made available later this week, perhaps after the teachers' union officially reviews and votes on the contract on Thursday. The two teams of negotiators had been working nonstop since 2 p.m Sunday to end the city's first teachers' strike since 1981. The session was their most significant meeting since the PFT members first hit the picket lines following the workday on Friday. Talks between the two groups had been ongoing for 10 months, but the lack of progress forced the city to unilaterally impose a contract this month. But with the talks going nowhere as Sunday afternoon turned into evening and then into night, hope grew dim that a settlement could be reached before the scheduled start of classes. Local media reminded Philadelphia parents to prepare for the unexpected off-day, and most area residents went to bed on Sunday with the understanding that school would be canceled the next day. That all changed, of course, when Street and PFT President Ted Kirsch made their triumphant announcement during the early morning hours at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza hotel in Center City. But according to officials from the school district, such late notice did affect attendance patterns at local schools. High schools around the city, for instance, reported attendance figures at about 50 percent -- 30 percent lower than normal. "Given the fact that people went to bed last night with gloomy predictions from the news media... we are not surprised," district spokesman Paul Hansen said. The agreement reached by the two parties will supersede the contract imposed on the PFT by Street and the School Board last month. Sources close to the talks said the city agreed to reduce the unpaid extension of the school day to 30 minutes and will now provide for a new series of seniority-based pay raises and bonuses. Street added that the deal would not require a property tax increase. He also added that the settlement will eventually help the district's attempts to obtain more state funding. Union officials, who had so vocally criticized city and school district leaders, were filled with nothing but joy as they announced the contract agreement. "I think we're very, very pleased that things really worked out in the end on a positive note," Kirsch said. Street added that now is not the time to argue over details or the contentious relations between the city and the PFT. "Let's not worry about how it all happened," Street said. "It happened and we're all delighted." The Associated Press contributed to this article.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.