Councilman Green among top picks to lead SRC

Keith Leaphart, a doctor and entrepreneur, is eyed for January's opening.
Keith Leaphart, a doctor and entrepreneur, is eyed for January's opening.
Posted: November 30, 2013

City Councilman Bill Green and former Convention Center head Al Mezzaroba are Gov. Corbett's top choices to lead the School Reform Commission, multiple sources say.

A second SRC seat becomes vacant in January, and the top contenders for that post, the sources say, are Farah Jimenez, who leads the People's Emergency Center, and Keith Leaphart, a doctor and entrepreneur.

Few details are known about the views of most of the likely nominees, who would all be subject to confirmation by the state Senate. But Green has made no secret of his stance - that he has "radical and transformative" ideas for the ailing Philadelphia School District.

In policy papers, Green has argued that the district is "too big to succeed." He has criticized the "truly dysfunctional relationship and lack of trust" between the district and its funders in City Hall and Harrisburg.

His proposed fix? A "comprehensive - even experimental - approach to education reform" with all due haste to revitalize a city in peril.

Green, who declined to comment for this article, wants much stronger charter school oversight, but he wants many more charters and far fewer district schools. He wants vouchers.

The district, Green has argued, should be broken into two pieces: a smaller district made up of strong schools run by a local board of education, and a larger one made up of struggling schools run mostly as charters and administered by a state board.

Those positions, outlined in policy papers, may draw fire in some quarters, but they may also make Green appealing in Harrisburg, where the district and its recurring financial problems are viewed with intense skepticism.

Sources with knowledge of Green's views on education say his positions have evolved since the policy papers were written, that he no longer believes the district needs to be broken up, and that the SRC structure can work.

But Green still believes that if the district doesn't quickly and dramatically shift course, "they're putting themselves in a place to completely collapse," one source said.

If chosen to head the SRC, Green would have to resign his Council seat. He was once widely expected to run for mayor, but that talk has quieted.

Green is a Democrat, but his position on the district - and on charters - makes him palatable to pro-charter Republicans. He also gets points in Harrisburg for his stance on district finances.

In 2009 and 2010, well before the current crisis hit, Green in City Council hearings grilled then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman on her use of millions in federal stimulus funds to support new programs, suggesting that doing so without a way to replace the money in the long term was a recipe for disaster.

When the federal aid ran out, the district found itself in a terrible bind, nearly running out of cash in 2012 and operating schools this year with deep cuts in staff, programs, and supplies.

Green issued his first education policy paper in 2010, when he declared: "We can't 'reform' the public schools. For them to be successful at fulfilling their mission, the only answer is data-based innovation and continuous improvement. We must be impatient, accepting the risk that not all of our innovations will be successful but strong in the belief that no change is permanent."

Charters are a big part of the Green equation - he believes charters that meet certain metrics should be allowed unlimited expansion powers. He also called for best practices now in effect at charters to spread to all district schools.

But Green also believes that charters must be overseen more vigorously, and that the district's charter school office should report to the SRC, not to the superintendent.

He wants to lengthen the school day and year, tie teacher pay in part to student performance, break up big high schools, mandate common planning time for teachers, and ensure that their input is reflected in how principals run schools.

He wants more social and academic supports for children, even before they start school and lasting through college.

He wants better-kept school buildings.

But more district schools need to be shut down, Green believes. Excess space should be given to charters.

The state, Green holds, is not off the hook. He called for better state funding for public education.

"The age of school districts having monopoly power over publicly supported education has passed," he wrote. "It is past time to expand what works and close down what does not."

The SRC has been leaderless since Oct. 23, when Pedro Ramos resigned. The void is becoming more pronounced, and not just because contracts cannot be executed without a chair.

It's unclear when an announcement for either Ramos' replacement or both posts will be made, but no pick can be seated until 2014. With just a few legislative days left in the year, the deadline for naming nominees, then having them move through the confirmation process, has passed, Harrisburg officials confirmed.

Corbett said he understood the urgency but said Wednesday, "we are looking for the right person," adding that he had narrowed the list to "a few names."

When told the Senate would not be able to vote on his nominee until next year, Corbett said: "I would have liked to have had it settled by now, but I think it's more important to take the time to get the right person."


kgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-5146 @newskag

www.philly.com/schoolfiles


Inquirer staff writers Angela Couloumbis and Amy Worden contributed to this article.

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