School Reform Commission Votes to End Itself

Here’s what that means for Philly – other than a potential increase in property taxes.

The contentious School Reform Commission voted to disband itself on Thursday night.

The long-anticipated decision will have a significant impact on Philly and its schools: The commission (consisting of three members appointed by the governor and two members chosen by the mayor) has served as the governing board of the Philadelphia School District since 2001.

If the SRC succeeds in abolishing itself — the state’s Secretary of Education, Pedro Rivera, still has to approve its decision — Philly will regain local control of its schools.

Mayor Jim Kenney pushed for the commission to end itself earlier this month, finally choosing a clear side in the heated debate. While some claim the move would potentially threaten funding from Pennsylvania lawmakers, others, including education activists, point out that the SRC has not done its job of effectively reeling in state funding.

“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 said.

If Rivera approves the commission’s vote by January 1st (which he is expected to do), Kenney and a 13-member nominating panel would appoint a new nine-member Board of School Directors. Members must be Philadelphia residents, and their terms would be concurrent with the mayor’s.

What does local control mean for Philly? Perhaps most important (for taxpayers, at least), Kenney has promised that the city will cover the $700 million deficit the school district is projected to accrue over the next five years. There’s a decent chance that will mean increased property taxes.

Last month, deputy mayor for policy and legislation Jim Engler told that to cover that deficit, Kenney will choose “the best options that he thinks are reliable sources of revenue” for the cash-strapped district. On Thursday, City Councilman-at-large Allan Domb introduced legislation that he said would help close that gap by allowing the city to collect millions in delinquent real estate taxes.

Pending Rivera’s approval, the SRC will cease to exist by July 2018.