City Council debates returning Philly schools to local control

school district rally
Students rallied last month against budget cuts outside the School District of Philadelphia headquarters. (Credit: Rikard Larma / Metro).

City Council on Monday held a hearing debating returning the School District of Philadelphia to the control of a locally-elected school board.

The Commonwealth in 2001 took over the embattled District by replacing the school board with the School Reform Commission consisting of three gubernatorial appointees and two mayoral appointees.

The SRC last week voted to approve a “doomsday” budget for city schools, drastically slashing support staff and eliminating extracurricular programs.

“The pain caused by the SRC has far outweighed the benefits of this failed experiment,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan said.

“It is time for the management of the School District to be returned to the city of Philadelphia. It is hard to imagine that a community-represented school board could do a worse job of managing the District’s resources than the SRC has done. At least Philadelphia’s taxpayers would be able to hold them accountable.”

State Rep. Mark Cohen said, in his opinion, an elected school board must have the power to raise revenue through levying taxes in order to be meaningful.

“All the other school districts in Pennsylvania, which are elected, have independent taxing power – the school district levies taxes, so do local governments – and it is very clear who is paying for what,” he said.

But Council Education Committee chair Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said it doesn’t seem likely her colleagues will support sharing that power.

“For us to move forward, it is my opinion, at this point, that Council is not willing to give away its taxing authority – and I never ask people to vote themselves out of a vote,” she said, inquiring about the feasibility of a hybrid school board that would make recommendations to City Council but not directly set tax rates.

A similar model was put forth in legislation introduced by state Sen. Mike Stack, who proposes establishing a locally-elected school board that would not have taxing power and whose superintendent would still be appointed by the mayor, though he could be ousted by a no-confidence vote from the board.

“The SRC fails the accountability and transparency test because its members are not elected by the taxpayers, therefore, they are not accountable to parents, students and certainly not to the taxpayers,” Stack said Monday.

“They are only accountable to the governor or mayor who appoints them.”

But attorney and education activist Leon Williams disagreed with at least one point of Stack’s proposal.

“We need to get that provision out of there that says the mayor appoints the superintendent,” he said.

“An elected school board should have the right and power to do that on its own. There’s no need to start off by crippling an elected school board.”

Cohen noted that making a locally-elected school board a reality would be a longterm process.

“First, we need a sense that Philadelphians really want an elected school board,” he said.

“Then we have to get the votes in the state legislature to allow Philadelphia to have it. It would ultimately either require an amendment to the city charter or an amendment to state law. It would probably be easier to amend the city charter. Without a charter amendment, it’s the duty of the state to determine it.”

Finally, Councilman Brian O’Neill pointed out the SRC was not an inherently bad model, especially given the financial challenges the city faced in 2001.

“There was promise and the mayor did not give up his ability to appoint the school board without assurances from the state this was a win for the city, as well as the state,” he said.

“It just didn’t work out that way.”

O’Neill thinks a longitudinal study needs to be done to determine exactly what caused the SRC to go south and why in order to avoid making the same missteps again.

“Maybe we can find out, in the current setup, where things went wrong – should there have been funding in the legislation that set up the SRC, funding guarantees, that kind of thing,” he said.

In the meantime, according to activist Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education, “the School District of Philadelphia has the largest budget in Pennsylvania, behind the city and the state itself. Governing it are people whose qualifications are a mystery, whose intentions are kept private and whose identities are unknown to many. Never has so much money gone unaccounted.”


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

New statue of Penn State's Paterno set for…

By David DeKokHARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Fundraising for a new statue depicting Joe Paterno "as the man he was and not Joe the football coach"…

National

On newly released tape, 'Squeaky' Fromme says was…

Manson Family member Squeaky Fromme told a mental health examiner in newly released interview the "X" she carved in her forehead was meant to separate her from "the system."

Local

New York-based Century 21 store coming to The…

The former Strawbridge & Clothier building will once again host a department store. City officials on Thursday announced New York-based Century 21 Department Stores will…

National

Electric Zoo tickets on sale Tuesday as festival…

Electric Zoo tickets go on sale Tuesday. The festival announced plans to amp up security after two attendees died last year from apparent drug overdoses.

Movies

Tribeca: 'Goodbye to All That' star Paul Schneider…

Paul Schneider talks about his new film "Goodbye to All That," not acting too much and how he'd rather indulge in simple pleasures than play the scene.

The Word

Taylor Swift battles paparazzi daily at Tribeca penthouse

We're entranced by these photos of poor Taylor Swift leaving her Tribeca apartment.

Movies

Tribeca: Nikki Reed on going funny for a…

"Intramural" star Nikki Reed talks about being the straight person in a broad comedy, spending time in Austin and how "Thirteen" was a "miracle."

Movies

Interview: 'The Quiet Ones' star Sam Claflin on…

"Hunger Games" co-star Sam Claflin talks about his new horror film "The Quiet Ones," plus how technology connects him with fans.

MLB

The return of Cole Hamels brings optimism

Cole Hamels’ quality start Wednesday was a nice change of pace from his recent season debuts.

MLB

Tony Gwynn Jr. a nice surprise for Phillies

Tony Gwynn Jr. has been a plus in every way for the Phillies.

NFL

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24…

2014 NFL Mock Draft: Updated, new April 24 version

MLB

5 infamous pitcher ejections for cheating

Never fear Yankees fans, Michael Pineda is far from the first MLB pitcher to be thrown out of a game for cheating.

Food

Hai Street Kitchen opening in Rittenhouse May 22

Japanese cuisine will get a Chipotle-style twist at Hai Street Kitchen & Co., a new casual, quick-food restaurant opening near Rittenhouse Square on May 22.…

Parenting

New study: Inside the wage gap between boys…

According to a new study, there's a wage gap between boys and girls, with boys earning more allowance for less chores.

Tech

From Apple TV to Fire TV, big changes…

Apple is set to launch a new generation of it's Apple TV, which grossed over $1 billion in 2013. But competition from Amazon and Google looms.

Style

Katy Perry releases a new Claire’s collection

Katy Perry expands her empire by releasing an accessories collection at Claire's.