A recent survey commissioned by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers found overwhelming support among city residents for dismantling the School Reform Commission. The state appoints the majority of its members.
At a forum on education issues Wednesday evening at the Central Library, all four Democratic candidates for governor agreed with the popular consensus, saying Philly schools should return to full local control.
The SRC was created in 2001 with the intention that the state would have more of a say in – and take more responsibility for – the outcomes achieved in Philadelphia public schools.
Thirteen years later, there’s a growing sentiment in the city that state intervention hasn’t made things better.
“I think the School Reform Commission has not worked,” said state Treasurer Rob McCord. “Very importantly, we don’t know who to hold accountable. We don’t know whether or not to hold the mayor accountable, the governor accountable.”
McCord wouldn’t commit to exactly how the new school board should be elected or appointed.
Katie McGinty, former state Department of Environmental Protection secretary, said she’d set up a commission to study how to best make up the board.
“For me, this is really about getting back to what we know works,” she said. “And that is neighborhood schools and local ownership of those schools.”
Tom Wolf, the York county businessman currently leading the Democratic field, said it’s a bad idea to give politicians appointment power.
“Every other school district in Pennsylvania is governed by an independently elected school board for whom education is the No. 1 priority,” said Wolf. “So my preference would be to go to an elected school board.”
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a former state senator, reminded the audience that she’s been against the School Reform Commission since its inception.
“I actually voted against the SRC and the state takeover while in the state Senate,” she said. Schwartz, who advocated for a school board appointed solely by the mayor, said she is open to the prospect of an elected body.
Like all the candidates, she stressed that disbanding the SRC wouldn’t take the state off the hook financially.
“Fact is, it is a state responsibility,” she said. “It is not an option. It is something the governor is responsible for.”
If one of these Democrats is elected in the fall and follows through on this campaign pledge, the matter would still have to go through the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi said the senator’s not inclined to respond to candidates’ positions, at least until after the May 20 primary.
The School Reform Commission now comprises three members appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett – Chairman Bill Green, Feather Houstoun and Farah Jimenez – and two appointed by Mayor Michael Nutter–Wendell Pritchett and Sylvia Simms.
The event was sponsored by Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia Education Fund, Congreso, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.