The time has come. The experiment that was the School Reform Commission has run its course.
A coalition of community groups – following the resignation this week of two SRC members – was right to call on Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf to appoint people “ready to vote on Day One to abolish” the commission.
When introduced to us in 2001, the SRC was supposed to solve our chronic school funding problems. If we allowed the state a foot in our local business by allowing the governor to appoint three of his own to our decision-making body. The state then would finally provide the funding needed for basics such as a school nurse and a music teacher — virtual luxuries for Philly schoolchildren.
So we ended up with commissioners appointed by the governor sitting alongside commissioners appointed by the mayor, who together closed one neighborhood school after another and chucked the teachers’ contract.
We could have suffered that experience by ourselves.
Marjorie Neff’s and Feather Houstoun’s departures will leave the five-member commission with three members – Bill Green, Sylvia Simms and Farrah Jimenez.
(However, Jimenez’s seat should only count as one-half. Since her interests so often conflict with school district business and operations, she must regularly recuse herself from voting).
So why not now?
Kenney makes two appointments to the SRC, but he may not be an engine for change.
While running for office in 2015, then-mayoral candidate Jim Kenney told the Philadelphia Tribune editorial board, “. . . if [the SRC] goes away entirely, it gives Harrisburg just another excuse to wipe their hands clean of us, and say we are on our own. So having the SRC there, despite that it’s really not functioning well as far as providing additional services to our students, I’m concerned that if it goes way entirely, [the state] will just turn their back totally and just walk away.
“I think we should have some semblance of Harrisburg involvement in our school’s governance,” he said.
To that, I say when it comes to the Pennsylvania legislature and funding a district of mostly poor, mostly Black children, any excuse will do. And I pose this question: Do other districts receive state funding without having a state representative on their school board?
Were the SRC to be demolished, what would replace it? Let’s not taut the option of an elected school board like it’s a silver bullet.
We should first consider: will the candidates have to answer to party boss Bob Brady? Will they have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get on those endorsement ballots you see election-day workers passing out near polling places (they’re not all free, ya know)? Will they be so busy shaking hands, kissing babies and hosting fundraisers that they won’t have time to do school business? Will they win a seat based on their ability to entertainingly deliver untold numbers of overblown promises, only to rubber-stamp contracts that benefit those-in-the-know?
And let’s not forget Anthony Clark.
You remember him? You should. He’s still in office. He’s the city commissioner and the chief of local voting who has a record of not voting. We re-elect him every time.
One friend of mine in favor of an elected school board answered my questions with this answer: “At least there is the opportunity to get a foot in the door, and City Council, for all its weaknesses is much more responsive to popular pressure than an appointed board would be. “
Responsiveness would be great. Because the SRC is likely transitioning into a body of the past. And our kids need some stability as soon as possible.