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Philadelphia teachers irate after losing contract

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia teachers vowed to fight a sudden move by the district Monday that cancels their union contract and forces them to start paying health premiums of as much as $140 a month.

The teachers union, with about 15,000 members, accused the state-led School Reform Commission of ratcheting up its "war on teachers."

However, district leaders said there was nothing else to cut after years of funding woes that have prompted nearly $1 billion in cuts that includes the loss of 5,000 positions and the closure of 30 schools in the district, which has 135,000 students. Many Philadelphia schools operate without a nurse or librarian on duty.

Both superintendent William Hite and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, along with Mayor Michael Nutter, agreed that the problem lies in the state funding formula for education.

"The cuts by the commonwealth over the last few years have had a devastating financial impact on the school district," Nutter said.

Hite nonetheless backed the decision, saying it would yield more than $50 million a year for classroom and other needs.

"Requiring teachers and other employees to contribute to their health care costs is a change and a sacrifice, but contributing to health care benefits is the reality of today's workplace," Hite said in a letter to parents.

The announcement came at a brief meeting of the School Reform Commission. The schools have been under state control since 2001.

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