City Council members will take up the matter in the spring as they debate a resolution introduced yesterday by City Councilman Michael Nutter.
Nutter's proposal would place a referendum for a Home Rule Charter amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would change the terms of board members, allow City Council to approve board-member appointments, and allow the mayor to fire board members, among other provisions.
``I think the time is right to do this because we have an election year where a new mayor and City Council get elected,'' Nutter said after yesterday's Council meeting. ``There's been almost 20 years of discussion about having the board members' terms be concurrent with the mayor's.''
The proposal for changing school-board appointments is part of a bigger package of reforms that good-government groups such as The Committee of Seventy and education advocates have been promoting since 1981, when a 50-day teachers' strike left the school district in crisis.
``The modern trend is for mayors to be held accountable for public education in their cities,'' said Frederick Voigt, executive director of The Committee of Seventy, citing recent reforms in Chicago that allowed Mayor Richard M. Daley to make improvements to the school system there. ``Mayors historically have been able to treat the school district as if it were a foreign country.''
Eight members of City Council, including Nutter, expressed their support for more mayoral control over the school district last week when they sent a letter to the school board. The letter, written by Councilman Frank DiCicco, opposed a contract extension for Schools Superintendent David Hornbeck on the grounds that the next mayor should choose the superintendent.
Councilman Jim Kenney, who signed the letter, said he supported the proposal introduced yesterday.
Reforms were considered by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1982 but defeated by one vote. They included authorizing the mayor and City Council to make changes to and approve the school district budget, which is now presented to the mayor and Council but approved by the school board. Suggested changes also included allowing the mayor to appoint the school board all at once, to negotiate contracts with school employee unions, and to appoint the superintendent, who is now chosen by the school board. (Earlier this week, the board voted 6-3 to extend Hornbeck's contract by two years.)
Outside the school-board changes, all other reforms would have to be enacted by the legislature.
School board-term changes are ``a piece of a package, and it shouldn't be viewed in isolation,'' said Voigt. ``It's part of a total proposal that effectively puts the mayor in charge of public education in the City of Philadelphia.''
There is widespread support at least for the idea of allowing each mayor to pick the entire school board. Mayor Rendell and most of the mayoral candidates have said they support the concept.
School board Vice President Pedro Ramos said yesterday that he believes the mayor and school board members should have a unified vision. ``If at some point there's a mayor that doesn't share [my] vision, I would expect that mayor to reconsider whether I should be on the board,'' Ramos said.
And Ted Kirsch, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said: ``I go along with the whole concept of trying to make the mayor more accountable.''