This is the third of 10 questions about issues and priorities that NewsWorks asked the seven Democratic candidates running for the Eighth District City Council seat. The questions were drafted by voters who attended NewsWorks forums earlier this spring. Their answers will appear on NewsWorks.org during the week, two questions per day. Answers to question 4, about their plans to reduce the number of abandoned properties, will be posted later today.
We will be running the candidates’ answers to questions 5 and 6 on Wednesday.
Martin Luther King Jr. High School, to which many Eighth District families send students, is mired now in a controversy over political arm-twisting about a charter school contract. How can a councilperson engage productively with our public schools, without inappropriate meddling in school management?
First and foremost keep the community involved. Second, not receive campaign contributions from any of the organizations with city or education contracts. Because even if there is no wrongdoing, there is the appearance of impropriety.
I would meet with all parties involved, parents, teachers, administrators and students and develop a plan of action that all would be responsible for carrying out. I would also connect MLK students with structured after school programs at the Awbury recreation center, lengthening the school day and giving young people the additional outlets they need to grow.
What I can do as Councilperson is to fulfill my office when the SRC comes to Council for funding to question the appropriateness of the SRC’s selling off our schools to private contractors who have no track record of meeting the standards of excellence in educating our children. Further, I can use my vote related to funding the SRC’s budget as a tool to get the SRC to be more accountable to the citizens of Philadelphia.
It is unacceptable that elected officials have turned their backs on our community and ignored the decision made in good faith by the MLK community. A City Council member’s power is mainly in the budget process and I would seek to influence the direction of our education system there, but a district Council member has another tool: community consensus. I plan to stay involved at the community level and be the conduit for the wishes of the people. I won’t be controlled by politicians from other parts of the city who do not have our best interests in mind.
First of all, we cannot allow elected officials from outside the Eighth District to intervene in important decisions inside the district. Secondly, I have long envisioned an education-oriented volunteer effort geared entirely towards empowering our teachers, administrators and students to lift our own schools up. This is especially needed given the devastating and disproportionate education cuts that Governor Corbett’s administration has been pushing from Harrisburg. An example, last January, I celebrated Martin Luther King Day by participating in a service project geared towards overhauling the school library at Roosevelt Middle School. I was struck by what 100 or so people accomplished on that day, and inspired enough to become convinced that a broader community/volunteer effort could make have appositive impact on the schools of the Eighth District. Such a community-inspired movement could make tangible improvements in schools from the ground up, as opposed to adding another meddlesome voice at the management level.
A Councilperson’s main duties are to legislate, advocate, and investigate. Those are the powers of a Councilperson. Since the schools are controlled by the state, the main duties are to advocate and to investigate. In order to be an advocate for our public schools, we must support the leadership that is in place so that they may be successful in their jobs. I will engage parents in forums and hold regular meetings to make sure their needs are met. If they are not, that engages the next power/duty investigation. As Councilperson, I will make inquiries to the School District in order to find out why parents and students needs aren’t being met. If those answers are not satisfactory, I will wield the investigative power of my Council office to hold hearings to bring about a proper resolution.
The Council person should be engaged productively in what happening to the children in the district. I would never allow a deal that going to affect the lives of the children in the district without being there to ensure that this is in the best interest of the community, school, teachers, and most important the children. Those days of back room deals on our kids in the district end on May 18, 2011.
Tomorrow we’ll hear from the candidates on how they would ensure transparency in future development projects that involve public funds and if they support term limits for council members.