Gov. Tom Wolf intends to nominate Estelle Richman, a career public servant and former Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare, to serve on Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.
Multiple sources confirmed the nomination to NewsWorks. The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Richman’s selection.
A formal announcement is expected next week.
Richman would replace Feather Houstoun. Her resigned from the five-member commission took effect Friday. Richman must be confirmed by the Pennsylvania Senate before she can begin to serve.
Richman’s resume is heavy with government experience. She helmed the state’s Department of Public Welfare under former Gov. Ed Rendell. She’s also a familiar face in Philadelphia, having served as city manager, director of social services, and commissioner for public health.
Most recently Richman was a senior advisor to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
If confirmed, Richman would join the SRC at a critical time for the body.
Chair Marjorie Neff is leaving the comission on Nov. 3. Her colleague, Sylvia Simms, will step down in January when her term expires. Their replacements will be named by Mayor Jim Kenney.
With three new appointees slated to join the SRC in such a short period of time, there’s the potential for big changes — both in terms of policy and, perhaps, the structure of Philadelphia’s school governance.
With a majority vote, the SRC can opt to dissolve itself. Such a vote would return Philadelphia schools to local control for the first time since a 2001 state takeover.
Wolf has said he favors local control of Philly schools, though it’s unknown — at least initially — where his nominee stands on the issue.
Kenney also says he wants the city to run its own schools again, but issued a statement Thursday arguing local officials need at least a year to create a good succession plan. Some advocates want city schools to be run by a board of mayoral apointees, as it was in the years before the SRC took over. Others are calling for an elected school board.
The bulk of Richman’s work hasn’t been in K-12 education, the area for which the SRC is primarily responsible. That means Republicans in Harrisburg are likely to ask where Richman stands on a number of hotly-contested issues, including charter schools and school choice.
The current iteration of the SRC has clashed repeatedly on charter school approvals and renewals. At the moment, four schools in the district’s Renaissance Charter program sit in limbo as the SRC remains deadlocked on whether to renew them.