As the School Reform Commission searches for a new superintendent, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity ramped up its pressure to include more clergy in the selection process during a press conference on Tuesday in front of School District of Philadelphia headquarters on North Broad Street.
Black Clergy president Terrance Griffith and vice president Reverend Kevin R. Johnson joined local NAACP president Jerry Mondesire and a slew of local clergy in demanding the school district do all it can to put children first.
“The School District of Philadelphia is undergoing radical education reform with little or no input from taxpayers, parents, students, teachers and voters,” Johnson said, noting that he also has two children in the public school system, and they will soon be joined by a third. “Interim appointees, who represent the mayor, governor and business interests, are moving forward with a plan to radically decentralize the district, with no publicly stated and clearly articulated vision on decentralization and how this radical education reform will benefit all children in the school district.”
Johnson and others point to the district’s Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen’s prediction that the district will face a $145 million budget gap for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2012 – and that some have suggested deficits twice as deep. Johnson also referred to City Controller Alan Butkovitiz’ scathing report that outlined the now well-known budget gap of $61 million that the district must close by July of this year.
Johnson blasted the district for basically throwing good money after bad, by hiring contractors and paying them exorbitant fees, while squeezing the services and programs it offers its students.
“In order to address this fiscal crisis, the SRC’s answer has been to hire outside debt-reduction consultants with lucrative short-term multi-million dollar contracts, eliminate Promise Academies, cut summer school, lay off school safety officers, and move forward with a plan to decentralize the district,” Johnson said, referring to the $6 million contract the district awarded The Boston Group. “There seems to be a radical education reform agenda being imposed - with no superintendent or captain to steer the ship.”
Mondesire minced no words in placing blame for the crisis facing Philadelphia public education.
“The problem begins right down the street at City Hall…it starts with the mayor, and ends up right here with the SRC, and the governor who cut the funding in education,” Mondesire said, pledging that the NAACP will back the Black Clergy’s moves. “These are the real culprits in this skullduggery. [The SRC] wants to decentralize the system because they eventually want to get to a privatized system, and that would destroy public education.”
While short on providing actual solutions to the multi-pronged issues facing the school district, Griffith made it clear that he was not pleased with the series of meetings the SRC held throughout the city, nor with the selection team itself.
“We’re looking for fair education for our kids. Education is not a Center City right, but a right for all children in Philadelphia,” Griffith said. “We are looking for a good superintendent, and we want to be a part of the process. We do not believe the members of the SRC and a few other people should determine who the superintendent is, with some orchestrated community discussions.”
Indeed, the SRC has recently completed the last of 21 meetings throughout the city, during which it has gathered information from attending stakeholders on what qualities they are looking for in a new leader. These meetings ran concurrently with discussions on the closure of nine public schools throughout the city. And through some painful cuts – including the reduction of security staff, and closing school buildings on weekends – have allowed the district to nearly cut in half its budget gap for this year.
And last week, the SRC released a statement that it had – on Mayor Nutter’s recommendation – added Reverend Albert Campbell, Pastor of Mt. Caramel Baptist Church, to its SRC search team committee, a unit that already included mayoral appointments Lori Shorr and Sylvia Simms. Pedro Ramos serves as SRC Chairman, and committee members include Len Riser, Patricia DeCarlo, Robert Wonderling, Fred Ginyard, Ed Williams and Ken Kring.
When asked about Reverend Campbell’s appointment to the SRC, Griffith would only say that he “loved Pastor Campbell.”
The district also released an update to its “Educational Leadership Criteria” it will use to select a new superintendent. The new superintendent should “be sensitive to issues of equity within the school system; manage the business aspects of the district with unwavering focus on what is best for the educational enterprise; understand and respect the diversity of the City of Philadelphia; engage, listen to, and be responsive to students, families and other stakeholders; be committed to transparency and openness in the management of the school district and understands excellent schools should be determined by more than standardized test scores but a collection of school-based outcomes.”