Bill Green Is Still a Rebel

He's already surprised us. Can he chart a third way to help Philly kids?

bill green

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.

He always was. Lots of people thought he was simply trying to rise through the ranks quickly, chasing his father’s legacy, but in many cases he was trying to unmake or remake systems that simply weren’t working.

Well, what system works less well than school budgeting in Philly? We’re perpetually short of money, perpetually waiting on City Hall to make its budget decisions, perpetually playing a game of chicken with the state, and well, enough’s enough.

“There aren’t any gimmicks or quick fixes or secret slush funds or other things we can do to fix our budget problems,” Green said. “There’s no fat or flesh left to cut.”

When Corbett picked Green for the job, many assumed that Green’s history of supporting charters had somehow carried the day — that “reforming” public schools was going to amount to the GOP prescription of unmaking them by shifting kids to alternatives, and by breaking the teacher’s union here.

All of that can still happen — some of it has: Remember, the schools under Green are already trying to impose new work rules that would reduce the rule of seniority in teacher assignments.

But it turns out that Green might be more interesting than anybody expected, eschewing both the status quo and, well, the status quo of union-bashing ed reformers in order to chart a third way that matches his sense of what’s best for Philadelphia students.

“If the district isn’t going to provide quality schools and there’s an alternative out there that is, then I will always choose that alternative,” Green said back in January, when Corbett first nominated him to the SRC. “So that perspective hasn’t changed, but what’s changed now is my ability to influence the district in providing quality schools.”

What’s changed, then, is that Bill Green is in charge. He was always a rebel. Now he’s a rebel with responsibilities. This is going to be more interesting than we expected. Let’s just hope it’s also beneficial to Philly students.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.