Almost one month after Bill Green and his controversial School Reform Commission voted unanimously and unilaterally to cancel the labor contract for the approximately 15,000 teachers in the Philadelphia public school system, it looks like the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools and schools activist Lisa Haver, one of the founders of the alliance, are taking Green, the SRC and the School District of Philadelphia to court. Read more »
In criticizing our decision to begin charging teachers for health benefits and directing the $44 million annual savings to schools, Helen Gym makes an important point: Unless the School Reform Commission is open to and responsive to public input, it cannot meaningfully improve public education in Philadelphia (“SRC’s Contract Move Isn’t About Shared Sacrifice—It’s Looting.”).
I share the value Ms. Gym places on winning “the public trust,” but she considerably weakens her credibility with the sloppiness and bad faith of her attack on the SRC.
Recently, I visited my brother-in-law at Radnor High School and was privileged to see him teach his ninth-grade English/civics class. When I walked in, his students were engaged in a debate about Plato and the notion of dissent versus rule of law in Athenian society. The students had finished reading John Stuart Mill and were getting their first papers back for revision. It was October 2nd.
A few days later, I attended a parent meeting at Central High School, one of the city’s premier institutions. Dozens of ninth graders had spent their school year with substitute teachers who changed every week. The substitutes were put in place to relieve teachers leading classrooms with 40, 50, or even more students. For these ninth graders, school didn’t really start until October 8th, when permanent teachers were finally assigned to them.
This is what a teacher’s contract was supposed to prevent.
And it’s why the School Reform Commission’s move last week to tear up that contract is about far more than the dishonest suggestion of “shared sacrifice” and health care contributions.
He’s chairman of the School Reform Commission. She’s co-founder of Parents United for Public Education. They have very different ideas about how to run the district. In mid-September — a month before the SRC voided the district’s contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers — Bill and Helen sat down for a lengthy chat. Here, their (abridged) conversation about trying to see eye to eye.
PHILLY MAG: Helen, what do you think the advocate’s role is when dealing with the SRC? Is it to convince them? Is it to pressure them? How do you attempt to influence the SRC’s decisions?
BILL: Sometimes she calls me and yells at me, and sometimes we …
HELEN: He loves it.
BILL: … have a very cordial conversation.
HELEN: I’m his voice of whatever. I think about a lot about this question of who really has power. When we’re looking at large, complicated systems … it makes me think a lot about how we listen to one another, and how we define power and decision-making and authority, and in some cases I think that we haven’t always had governing authorities that are really aware of, responsive to or reflective of the things that parents and community members care very deeply about. I think we should agree that we’re in an extremely undemocratic governance structure. The School Reform Commission is a state takeover body, it’s an unelected body, and — this isn’t, you know, personal or anything like that.
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Turns out, Bill Green’s the same rebel we always thought he was.
Yeah, for a moment there, we thought maybe he’d gone establishment. Quitting the Council and taking over the School Reform Commission might’ve had some appeal to Green’s tinkering nature, but as much as anything it seemed to put him in the position of being the boss — which is a bit different from being a lowly, relatively new councilman annoying your more experienced colleagues with think-tank-style position papers about the way things should be.
What’s more, even bosses have bosses, and it’s pretty inconceivable that in their talks about Green taking the helm at the SRC, he and Gov. Tom Corbett — the man who nominated him to SRC — had any conversation that looked like this:
Corbett: “So, when you take over, I’d like for you to throw an unprecedented monkey wrench into the works by working with the Superintendent to defy the city charter and short-circuit the whole budgeting process, making Philly education an even bigger headache at the state level than it already is!”
Green: “Can do!”
No, unless Corbett’s pulling off some Machiavelli-level planning — he’s never given much indication of that capability before — we’re left to conclude one thing:
Bill Green’s still charting his own course.
Why anyone would sacrifice his cushy half-councilman/half-lawyer gig and toss away mayoral ambitions to take a position that would get him publicly yelled at on a regular basis by hundreds of angry people is beyond me.
The State Senate has confirmed at-large Councilman Bill Green as new School Reform Commission chair by a vote of 44-2. Philly’s Vincent Hughes and Chesco/Montco’s Andrew Dinniman dissented. Farah Jimenez, who leads a West Philly non-profit that addresses homelessness, was also confirmed as a new member of the five-person board.
Councilman Bill Green has long been known for his heterodox ways: While other pols rely on glad-handing to make their way, Green spent his time writing white papers describing how he’d fix government in Philadelphia. Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Green to chair Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission. (See Philly Mag’s new cover story on eight ways to fix Philadelphia schools.)
Thursday, Green talked to Philly Mag about Mayor Nutter’s reaction to that news, his views on charter schools, and whether he still has a shot at being mayor.
So it’s been a couple weeks now since Gov. Corbett announced your appointment to the SRC, what’s your take on the reaction you’ve received since then?
Well there’s been numerous and varied reactions, I think. [Laughs] Nobody is in the middle on my appointment.