PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mayor Jim Kenney has called for the dissolution of the School Reform Commission (SRC), and a return to local control, in an address Thursday morning to Philadelphia City Council.
Some parents say the SRC has been nothing short of a failed marriage.
Kenney received a standing ovation when he made his intentions official as his remarks were carefully delivered.
A delegation of state officials was present in council chambers during his address.
The commission has existed for 16 years. In exchange for more cash, the state assumed control of the financially troubled school district.
In a statement, the reform commission has signaled a Nov. 16 vote on a resolution to dissolve.
That would be the first step in the process, one that would need a sign-off by the commonwealth’s education secretary.
The mayor painted a grim financial picture, most notable, a billion-dollar deficit in the coming years.
“We must choose to meet this moment and become the masters of our own destiny. If we pair local control with increased investments, we can finally confront our city’s most persistent challenge. We can create a school district that is more collaborative, more financially stable, more accountable to Philadelphians, and as a result, a school district where our students progress and are accelerated,” said Kenney.
Returning the schools to local control would mean the mayor would appoint a nine-member school board and that accountability would rest with his office.
There’s expected to be some legislation introduced to amend the city charter where the City Council would have some degree of oversight.
The mechanics of the long-anticipated move were outlined in a briefing by the mayor’s policy director Jim Engler, late Wednesday.
The move received immediate praise from Councilwoman Helen Gym, a long-time school activist and SRC opponent.
“This is a win for every parent and community member who fought for fair funding despite a system that told us our children deserved less,” she said in a statement. “This is a win for every student who has stood up and demanded better for our schools, and raised their voices at countless SRC hearings and meetings.”
CitC council is expected to pass legislation seeking a charter change that would give them approval power over the mayor’s appointees. The earliest that could be submitted to voters, though, would be the May primary and Engler says Kenney hopes to name the nine members by March, to assure a smooth transition.
He says the administration is working to make an accommodation with council because it supports their having input.
“City Council has consistently stepped up in the past to support additional funding and resources and by involving city council here and city council expressing interest in being involved in appointments, they understand the needs of the district going forward, particularly the financial needs,” Engler says.
Those financial needs appear to the driving force.
The state created the SRC in 2001 so it would have control of the district, as it provided additional resources, to bring financial stability. The resources and stability were short-lived.
While the district is financially stable now, it’s projecting deficits beginning in 2019, due largely to pension costs and payments to charter schools, which now account for 30 percent of the district’s budget.
Engler says the mayor will convene a nominating panel after the SRC vote to dissolve. A bill expected to be introduced into City Council will require advertising for the panel.
Members must be registered voters in the city of Philadelphia. They’ll take nominations citywide and send the mayor three names for each seat that must be filled.
Engler says a smooth transition is important to the administration so the mayor hopes to name the members in February or March to give them several months to get ready to take over July 1.