Councilman proposes replacing SRC with school board

School Reform Commission members (rear, from left) Pedro A. Ramos, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Lorene Carey listen as Stanton School eighth grader Heaven Thomas (left) and seventh grader Azzizah Muhammed testify about keeping their school open.
School Reform Commission members (rear, from left) Pedro A. Ramos, Wendell E. Pritchett, and Lorene Carey listen as Stanton School eighth grader Heaven Thomas (left) and seventh grader Azzizah Muhammed testify about keeping their school open. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 22, 2011

The newly reconstituted School Reform Commission has been impaneled only a month - with high praise from Mayor Nutter - but City Councilman Bill Green said Wednesday it was time to change how the district is governed.

The commission, he said, should be replaced by a mayoral-appointed school board, similar to the model in use before the state takeover of the district in 2001. That board would oversee city schools that are working adequately.

Failing schools, he said, should be taken over by a to-be-established state board that also would oversee poorly performing schools elsewhere in Pennsylvania. The model, he noted, would be similar to the Recovery School District governance in Louisiana.

"We need to create a new, nimble structure that emphasizes complete overhaul of failing schools and restores local control over the many public schools that are already working for our children," Green said in a statement before appearing at the last commission meeting of the year.

As a councilman, Green has no power to change district governance, but he said he would urge state legislators and city and School District leaders to consider his proposal. He is expected to run for mayor in 2015.

Though several city and school officials said they would read and think about Green's proposal, none were quick to embrace it.

Councilman Darrell L. Clarke, who will be the next Council president, said he was concerned about taking too much power away from the state because that might make Harrisburg officials less interested in funding the district.

Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said she wanted to be sure that exploring a new governing structure did not detract from efforts to boost academic achievement.

"While governance is important, for me, as a former educator, achievement is far more important," she said.

Through spokesman Mark McDonald, Nutter said he had not had an in-depth conversation with Green about the proposal. Nutter pointed out that a new compact between the city and state and district and charter schools would address many of the issues Green raised. Under the compact, the four entities are working to set common academic standards, then expand schools that meet them and close those that do not.

Also at Wednesday's SRC meeting, SRC Chairman Pedro A. Ramos said in an interview the commission would hold meetings next month on school safety in preparation for the release of the final Blue Ribbon Commission report on the topic. The commission was established in November 2010 by Mayor Nutter and then-Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman after racial attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School and amid an Inquirer investigation of school safety.

An attempt by district administrators to get the commission to approve a $1,050 expense for printing of materials for the "Protect Public Education Campaign" under Ackerman's administration failed. The expense was incurred in February 2011.

"We have set a higher bar for justifying action" retroactively, Ramos said. "Except in emergencies, you're not supposed to expend public funds without authorization, and the authorization comes from the SRC."

Acting Superintendent Leroy Nunery II said he was not sure how the district would deal with the bill from Trinity Printing Inc.

Also Wednesday, the commission approved a modification to the school code that will give management more flexibility in dealing with nonunion, nonrepresented employees in issues such as layoffs.

And a group of students from Stanton School recited Hamlet's soliloquy in a performance, to try to get the commission to reconsider plans to close their arts-infused school. Dressed in yellow Stanton shirts, students spread around the auditorium and stood, one by one, reciting the verses. Actress Catharine Slusar has been teaching Shakespeare to Stanton students for six years.

"I just feel like the younger kids at Stanton need to have a chance to experience what we've had," said Heaven Thomas, 14, an eighth grader.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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