Mayor Jim Kenney is finally choosing a side in the debate over the contentious School Reform Commission.
On Thursday, Kenney will publicly push to abolish the SRC and reestablish local control of the School District of Philadelphia.
It’s not exactly an unexpected move – Kenney campaigned on revitalizing public education and establishing schools as community hubs, and last year he said the SRC should “probably be gone” – but until Thursday, the mayor had yet to solidly commit one way or the other on the hotly contested commission.
Kenney’s proposal comes weeks after the SRC debate took a major turn: Members publicly discussed what would have to be done to end the commission. The meeting was met with applause by parents, teachers and community members who had called for the SRC’s end for years.
In fact, the commission was met with revolt as soon as it was created in 2001. Maybe the intentions were decent enough – some thought appointing three members nominated by the governor (and two chosen by the mayor) would increase school funding from Harrisburg. But others, including education activists, felt it was unsustainable for the city to have to pander to state lawmakers (often unsuccessfully), and many were unhappy that the SRC’s creation led to several schools being turned over to a for-profit company (an experiment that ultimately proved to be a failure).
If Kenney’s plan pans out, the SRC would be no more by July 2018. For that to happen, the commission would have to vote to end itself (members will consider the option on November 16th) and the state’s Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, would have to approve that decision by January 1st.
That process would pave the way for a new nine-member Board of School Directors, selected entirely by the mayor. The board would serve terms concurrent with the mayor’s.
“With a return to local control, the people of Philadelphia will finally be able to hold one person accountable for their school system, the Mayor,” Kenney wrote in the proposal to be unveiled on Thursday.
Philly.com reports that on Thursday, Kenney will also promise to have the city cover the $1 billion deficit the school system is projected to accrue over the next five years, possibly through increased property taxes.
Jim Engler, deputy mayor for policy and legislation, told the publication that the city will examine many options and that Kenney will choose “the best options that he thinks are reliable sources of revenue for the district.”