Why SRC Haters Finally Have a Real Shot at Abolishing It

William Deadwyler, left, joins about a dozen students as they lock arms outside Philadelphia's school administration building Wednesday, April 17, 2002, forming a human chain and refusing to allow anyone inside. The Philadelphia School Reform Commission, set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups will be given control of some 75 schools in the district, decided to postpone the meeting for two hours and move it to another building several blocks away rather than make a forced entry. (AP Photo/Brad C. Bower)

In 2002, student activists locked arms outside of the building where the Philadelphia School Reform Commission was set to announce which companies and nonprofit groups would be given control of some 75 schools in the district. | Photo by Brad C. Bower/AP

The School Reform Commission is astonishingly unpopular in Philadelphia: Only 11 percent of residents think it should exist. Donald Trump has more support than that here!

And it’s been like this since the beginning: When the SRC was created in 2001 as a compromise between Mayor John Street and Republican leaders in Harrisburg, education activists were furious. The deal gave the governor the ability to appoint three members to the SRC, while the mayor only got two — and it led to the turnover of several local schools to a for-profit company. “In the first few months, their meetings were incredibly raucous. People would yell at the chairman,” says Paul Socolar, who was editor of the Public School Notebook at the time. “There was a view that it was a takeover being engineered to put the GOP’s buddies in charge of the school district.”

But for the last 15 years, the legions of SRC critics had no real chance of abolishing it — until now. Read more »

Two School Reform Commission Members Resign

School District of Philadelphia

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Two members of Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, the appointed body that serves in place of an elected school board, have announced that they will resign.

Marjorie Neff, a former principal at Masterman High School who was appointed to the SRC by former Mayor Michael Nutter in 2014 and made chair of the commission by Gov. Tom Wolf last year, will resign effective November 3rd. Feather Houstoun, who was appointed by former governor Tom Corbett in 2011, will serve until October 14th. Their terms were set to expire in January. A third commissioner, Sylvia Simms, has a term that expires early next year as well. Read more »

Bill Green: I’m Taking Tom Wolf to Court Over SRC Ouster

Bill Green | City Council Flickr

Bill Green | City Council Flickr

Update: Governor Tom Wolf has responded to Bill Green’s claims that he lacked the authority to unseat him as chair of the SRC. A statement issued by his spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan reads:

“Governor Wolf used his authority, as provided by statute, to appoint the chair of the School Reform Commission and to bring new leadership to the school district, which has been devastated by education cuts. Even now, after the governor has fought for greater investment in education at all levels and started to restore the funding Philadelphia lost, the district is in dire financial straits and our children are at a disadvantage. Due to misguided and poor decisions made by Harrisburg politicians, the district has been forced to lay off educators, cut important programs and slash transportation, security and other vital services. Governor Wolf will continue fighting for more funding for education and to provide a new path forward for Philadelphia’s schools.”

Earlier: Last spring, after the School Reform Commission he chaired had approved five new charter schools in Philadelphia, Bill Green was removed from his role as chair by Governor Tom Wolf and replaced with fellow commissioner Marjorie Neff.

Wolf was said to not want any new charter schools approved. Neff had voted against the new charter applications. At the time, Green, a former Philadelphia City Councilman, had said he planned to challenge the governor’s authority to make such a move. Then some time passed, and that challenge never came. Fast forward one year, and Green, in an oped in today’s Inquirer, says his challenge is coming now.  Read more »

Insider: The SRC May Be Sizing Up Your Neighborhood School Right Now

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Dear Parents: Pay attention.

The School Reform Commission wants to turn three neighborhood schools into charters. The community is outraged. The teachers are marching. The meetings are crazy. And that’s not going to make a difference.

On Jan. 21, the SRC’s monthly meeting devolved into bedlam when Commissioner Sylvia Simms motioned, with no public notice or invitation for comment, to begin the process of turning Wister Elementary over to Mastery Charter as part of the school district’s “Renaissance” initiative. (At the same meeting, the SRC also voted to start the procedure of handing Huey and Cooke Elementaries to charters.) Veteran education reporter Kristen Graham said it “may be the curviest curve” she had seen, and these are meetings that have led to union presidents being arrested and City Council members dancing to “Hotline Bling.” Simms’ motion passed anyway.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, guess what? The same thing could happen to your school. Read more »

What Comes After the SRC If It’s Abolished?

oh schools

Left, City Council Flickr. Right, Jeff Fusco.

When education advocates envision a possible replacement for the School Reform Commission, all kinds of ideas are on the table: How about an elected board? An appointed board? Who would do the appointing? How would charter schools be represented?

Councilman David Oh’s answer? Let’s try a little bit of everything. Read more »

This Report May Make You Look at the SRC Differently

Philadelphia School District Building

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Gov. Tom Wolf wants to shut down the School Reform Commission and return Philadelphia’s public schools to local control. Former Mayor Michael Nutter is also on board with the idea. And last year, city voters approved a non-binding referendum calling on the state to ditch the SRC.

Does the evidence show that is the best arrangement, though? The Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative compared Philadelphia’s setup with that of 15 other big-city school districts. The report laid out a few important findings that both advocates and critics of a proposed local board should keep in mind: Read more »

Mayor Nutter Says It’s Time to Disband the School Reform Commission

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter walks down a blocked off Market Street, with City Hall in the background, in Philadelphia on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, before Pope Francis' trip. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(AP Photo/Mel Evans)

(Editor’s note: This is a developing story that will be updated.)

In a major education policy address, Mayor Nutter called today for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission, the state-created board that has overseen the School District of Philadelphia for the last 15 years.

“In my opinion and based on my experience – it is time to end the SRC.,” Nutter said. “It’s time for it to go.”

He called for a transition to a local school board comprised of nine members, five directly appointed by the mayor, four picked by the mayor from a list of 12 nominees prepared by City Council. And he proposed making the shift by September, 2017.

Why? Nutter cited two reasons. City control of its own schools will, he believes, increase community commitment to the district. Second, “Local control also eliminates confusion over who is responsible for what,” Nutter said. “Over the last 8 years, we’ve seen a revolving door of leadership everywhere but our local government – three governors, five Secretaries of Education, five School District Superintendents, six SRC Chairs and 17 SRC members.”

“Returning to local control means the voters of this city know who to hold accountable for educational outcomes – the Mayor.” Read more »

ThinkFest Preview: Farah Jimenez on Rethinking How We Solve Social Problems

Farah Jimenez listens during a news conference Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Philadelphia. Gov. Tom Corbett said Wednesday he will authorize $265 million in advance payments to the Philadelphia school district to allow schools to open "on day one" and help avoid layoffs. He said the money represents early disbursement of funds that the schools would normally receive through the academic year. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Farah Jimenez. | Photo by Matt Rourke/AP

Farah Jimenez doesn’t shy away from massive, intimidating, systemic problems. Last year, the Republican was tapped to tackle Philadelphia’s educational woes as a member of the School Reform Commission. Before that, she battled homelessness as president of the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia from 2010 to 2014. Between 1997 and 2010, she worked as executive director of Mt. Airy USA, helping to bolster the community development corporation and overhaul the area’s commercial corridor.

At ThinkFest, Jimenez will give a presentation titled, “Shaking Up the System: Rethinking How We Solve Social Problems.” We expect it will draw from her long history of taking on huge city issues. Read more »

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