The Rev. Kevin Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, sounded an alarm about the district's decentralization plans, which he believes could hurt schools in struggling neighborhoods.
"The School District of Philadelphia is undergoing radical education reform with little or no input from taxpayers, parents, students, teachers, and voters," Johnson said at an SRC voting meeting at district headquarters. "Decisions are being made about our children with no clear vision."
Johnson, father of two children who attend district schools, questioned the wisdom of spending millions on an outside consultant. The William Penn Foundation has donated $1.4 million to pay for the Boston Consulting Group to help the district slash costs and restructure its central office.
Supporters of two struggling city charters also went to bat for their schools, which they fear could not be renewed next month.
Arise serves students in foster care. It is the first school of its kind; one Arise senior described programs that turned his life around.
Frank Cervone, a lawyer and director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, which supports Arise, acknowledged the "school's road has been as rocky as those of its kids," with organizational issues and low test scores.
But "I believe they have turned the corner," Cervone said.
Hope Charter, also troubled, made a similar argument.
Recent graduate Tara Nelson wept as she described a school that coached her through college applications and refused to let her fail when she could not pay for a deposit to Manor College. It took up a collection and paid the cost for her.
Eric Worley, the school's principal, said it was "potentially being penalized by staying true to our mission" - educating the most vulnerable students, he said.
Students from another charter, Nueva Esperanza, asked the SRC to consider allowing it to expand grades. And Jeffrey Hammond, a board trustee of Green Woods charter, asked the commission for assurances its charter would be renewed. Green Woods is about to sell bonds to pay for an expansion.
SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos said he could not. Charter renewals will be voted on in April.
Amara Rockar, a volunteer at Lea Elementary in West Philadelphia, raised concerns about a cheating scandal and how it may affect decisions to close schools.
Decisions on school closings are based in part on a school performance index - a controversial measure that weighs test scores, school climate, and other factors.
With 53 district schools in the crosshairs of state and district cheating investigations, is that a flawed formula, Rockar asked?
Delores Brown-Waters, Home and School president at Creighton Elementary, one of the four district schools recently designated to be turned over to charters in the fall, asked the SRC to reconsider its decision.
The district failed to give Creighton the resources it promised, Brown-Waters said. If it had, the school would improve.
"We believe in our staff. We believe in our parents. We believe in our students," she said.
The SRC's actual agenda was light; it is gearing up for a massive meeting later in the month at which it will vote on nine school closings and introduce a 2012-13 budget.
Contact Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @newskag. Read her blog, "Philly School Files," at www.philly.com/schoolfiles