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Lawmakers Debate Whether Phila. School Board Should Be Returned to Local Control

(Philadelphia councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Philadelphia councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. Image from City of Phila. TV)

Mike Dunn Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is City Hall bureau chief for KYW Newsradio 1060. He covers...
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By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A week after the School Reform Commission approved its so-called “doomsday” budget, City Council was holding a hearing today on whether the district would be better served with a locally elected board.

The hearing was called by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, who says the state oversight of the school district has only led to massive deficits.

“I’ve gotten many complaints,” Blackwell said today.  “People feel that if they had an elected school board, they would have more accountability, and more access to them.”

In agreement was Pennsylvania state senator Mike Stack (below), who said that every time the governance of the school district is altered, promises of greater accountability fall short.

“Instead, we have year after year of dysfunctions, fiscal crisis, and schools that fail our students,” he told the hearing.

(Pa. state senator Mike Stack, testifying in City Council.  Image from City of Phila. TV)

(Pa. state senator Mike Stack, testifying in City Council. Image from City of Phila. TV)

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Stack proposes a locally elected board with nine members.  The mayor would appoint a superintendent, though the board would be able to deliver a vote of no-confidence.

State officials took control of the district and established the SRC in 2001.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown reminded those in attendance that any possible changes in governance would rest with Harrisburg, not City Council.

“Some things are in our control, and some things are not,” she said.  “The decision for an elected school board — though we might desire it, and believe it an appropriate way to go — ultimately the decision rests with the state.”

And Councilman Brian O’Neill suggested that the committee call in for questioning the former state education officials who oversaw the takeover a dozen years ago:

“The people who Mayor Street and his staff were dealing with (in 2001) — the education secretary at that time and others — might be able to shed some light on what they intended, versus what has actually happened.”