John Baer: Rep.: Let's expel the School Reform Commission

HQ on Broad Street near Spring Garden.JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
HQ on Broad Street near Spring Garden.JESSICA GRIFFIN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER (School district)
Posted: August 03, 2011

GIVEN THE STATE of city schools - angst over The Queen's contract, strong suggestions of a cheating scandal and, oh, so much more - is it time to switch things up?

State Rep. Angel Cruz thinks so. He wants public hearings on his bill to abolish the School Reform Commission (the body that voted to hire Arlene Ackerman in '08) and create a nine-member elected school board.

"Let's have hearings here in Philly," Cruz tells me, "I will pack the place up."

He's seeking a voter referendum on the issue. Co-sponsors include Philadelphia state Reps. Brendan Boyle, Mike McGeehan, Mike O'Brien, John Sabatina and Rosita Youngblood.

McGeehan wants Ackerman fired. Cruz says, "I want her out." Youngblood says she ought to go. You can see how this is leaning.

"There has to be way to get a handle on the district and stop these revolving superintendents," Youngblood says, "and one way to do that is with the accountability of an elected board, because right now voters have no say."

Rep. Louise Bishop also has a bill to dump the SRC and elect a board. Eight Philly co-sponsors include Rep. James Roebuck, minority chairman of the House Education Committee. Sen. Mike Stack is to introduce a similar bill next week.

And it's not just Democrats. GOP Rep. John Taylor supports a switch. He says, "I support almost anything other than what we have now."

But hold on. There are multiple obstacles.

One is Bucks County Republican Rep. Paul Clymer. He's chairman of the House Education Committee and is in no hurry to hold hearings on the issue.

If you need reminding, Republicans control the Legislature and all committees.

"I have some concern about putting in a school board at this time," Clymer says. "That's not the panacea to bringing quality education to Philadelphia schools."

He doesn't say what the panacea is. But, hey, who does?

His committee this month is holding hearings on vouchers, charter schools, cyber schools and Philly schools' money woes; Clymer says he'll only "consider" a referendum hearing after these are over. This is an example of majority power and consequences of elections.

But another obstacle to an elected board is process.

Before the state took control of schools in the late '90s, nine board members were appointed by the mayor. The SRC has five members: three named by the guv, two by the mayor.

The state has the power to relinquish control, but even if city voters approve a referendum as Cruz proposes, the issue goes to City Council.

(Did your shoulders just sag?)

Creating an elected board requires a change in the city charter, according to former city managingdirector and former schools CEO Phil Goldsmith.

That can only happen if (a) Council, by a two-thirds vote, approves a charter-change ballot question and voters support it; or (b) 20,000 registered city voters petition Council for a ballot question, a majority of Council approves that and voters support it.

This is an example of things being easier said than done.

And this doesn't even address the question of whether it's a good idea.

Although nobody's in charge now (the SRC is an ambiguous, amorphous body answerable to no one; the mayor seems a spectator), there's a danger that an elected board would be too much like, well, Council. Who wants that?

But the city and state created an out-of-control, unaccountable school system. And it begs, as Rep. Taylor puts it, for "anything other than what we have now."


Send email to baerj@phillynews. com. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/

JohnBaer. Read Baer's blog at www.philly.com/ BaerGrowls.

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