Local voters overwhelmingly supported a non-binding referendum this week to abolish Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission.
The state-controlled commission oversees the city school system and has final authority of budget and procedures.
They approved a question on the ballot asking whether Philadelphia’s Home Rule Charter should be amended to call upon the legislature and the governor to abolish the SRC and return local control of Philadelphia schools. The vote was 120,289 in favor of the resolution to 4,127 opposed in unofficial results.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who pushed for the non-binding ballot referendum, is pleased voters approved the measure.
“Parents, grandparents, members of the community and education advocates are all very upset about education as it is, and they all feel they need a change,” Blackwell said. “They feel that the SRC that exists does not have people who they feel understand the issues. The point is we have to have a board with people who have some connections with the schools. We’ve got to find a way to improve conditions and we can do that through interaction with the community.”
Blackwell said she plans to send a formal proposal to the mayor, the state legislature and the governor.
The state took over the school district in 2001 and replaced the local nine-member board of education with a five-member SRC. The mayor selects two members and the governor selects three. The SRC can only be abolished if the majority of its members vote to do so and with the approval of the state Secretary of Education.
“As Gov. Tom Wolf has said, he supports local control of schools and he will continue to explore ways to accomplish this in Philadelphia,” Jeff Sheridan, the governor’s spokesperson said Thursday.
Jim Kenney, who won the Democratic primary election for mayor this week, is in favor of an SRC that has more parent and community representation.
“When it comes to the SRC, some people want it to go away, some people want to keep it and some people want it changed. But if it goes away entirely, it gives Harrisburg just another excuse to wipe their hands clean of us and say we are on our own,” Kenney said in a meeting with the Tribune editorial board during the campaign.
“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 away 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.”
The call for abolishing the SRC comes as the school district faces budget shortfalls and has been forced to close schools and lay off staff.
“Voters are responding to what they have watched happen with respect to all the hard decisions we’ve had to make,” School District Superintendent William Hite said. “The problem is not one of governance. The problem is we don’t have enough resources. That doesn’t change if in fact there is a local SRC. It’s not going to matter who sits on the SRC — whether they are from the state or whether they are local or not — if we don’t have any money. Let’s focus on the things that matter — and that’s getting the funding that we need.”